This Ann Telnaes cartoon appeared in the Washington Post and captures exactly how Cheney feels about our wounded veterans.
Click here: Ann Telnaes Cartoons - washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
This Ann Telnaes cartoon appeared in the Washington Post and captures exactly how Cheney feels about our wounded veterans.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 7:55 PM
There are many, many stories of heroism coming out of the Iraq war, but we felt these three stories are well worth sharing with our blog readers. This is what America is made up of.
Private Josh Lee, 20, is lucky to be alive following the 'friendly' attack in Helmand Province last summer. Josh, who lives in Stonely, sustained burns to his face and upper body and was evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility at Camp Bastion for treatment before being flown to a specialist burns unit in Birmingham. The former Kimbolton School pupil had only been in Afghanistan for five-and-a-half months when he was injured in August 07. Josh spent four-and-a-half weeks undergoing surgery to rebuild the left side of his face and repair his upper body.
Sgt. Adam Kelley, 22, was just inches from a roadside bomb in Iraq when it exploded. He's hurt, but alive. Last Thursday, a roadside bomb exploded next to Adam's armored truck. The force knocked him out, but aside from a concussion, he's okay. He has headaches and some memory loss, but is expected to be okay. His unit, the 116th Security Force, a national guard unit out of Camp Williams is expected home sometime next month.
Staff Sgt. James "Ross" Graydon lost his arm in Iraq. Army officials say Graydon was performing route clearance maneuvers in Sadr City in July 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated next to his vehicle. The driver of the vehicle was killed, and three others were wounded. Graydon lost his arm in the explosion. Graydon is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division based at the post on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 7:36 PM
We've heard the words before. Some retired military officer (I call them "helmet heads") getting some TV face time to say the military is stretched to the breaking point because of constant rotations and the stop-loss plan.
But now comes word that President Bush met behind closed doors with ACTIVE duty military brass who are saying they will go along with the slowdown in troop reductions for now, but there has to be a plan to reduce troops in Iraq and Afghanistan very, very soon.
Military tells Bush of troop strains
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer 27 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Behind the Pentagon's closed doors, U.S. military leaders told President Bush Wednesday they are worried about the Iraq war's mounting strain on troops and their families. But they indicated they'd go along with a brief halt in pulling out troops this summer.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff did say senior commanders in Iraq should make more frequent assessments of security conditions, an idea that appeared aimed at increasing pressure for more rapid troop reductions.
The chiefs' concern is that U.S. forces are being worn thin, compromising the Pentagon's ability to handle crises elsewhere in the world.
In the war zone itself, two more American soldiers were killed Wednesday in separate attacks in Baghdad, raising the U.S. death toll to at least 4,003, according to an Associated Press count.
Volleys of rockets also slammed into Baghdad's Green Zone for the third day this week, and the U.S. Embassy said three Americans were seriously wounded. At least eight Iraqis were killed elsewhere in the capital by rounds that apparently fell short.
Wednesday's 90-minute Pentagon session, held in a secure conference room known as "the Tank," was arranged by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to provide Bush an additional set of military views as he prepares to decide how to proceed in Iraq once his troop buildup, which began in 2007, runs its course by July.
"Armed with all that, the president must now decide the way ahead in Iraq," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell. The discussion covered not only Iraq but Afghanistan, where violence has spiked, and broader military matters, said Morrell, who briefed reporters without giving details of the discussion. Some specifics were provided by defense officials, commenting on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely.
The Joint Chiefs are particularly concerned about Afghanistan and an increasingly active Taliban insurgency.
The United States has about 31,000 troops in Afghanistan and 156,000 in Iraq.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 6:32 PM
The insurgents have always been one step ahead of the U.S.military throughout this whole five year war. Just when the U.S. thinks they've got a handle on a certain weapon the insurgents use, the insurgents change their tactics and start using another weapon.
Today, the insurgents used mortars to kill 25 people in Baghdad.
On Tuesday, the insurgents used mortars to kill three American civilians inside the Green Zone.
25 killed, injured in mortar attacks in Baghdad
Baghdad - Voices of Iraq
Wednesday , 26 /03 /2008 Time 9:29:31
Baghdad, Mar 26, (VOI)- At least seven people were killed and 18 others were wounded on Wednesday in mortar shell attacks on two separate areas in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, said a police source.
“Several mortar shells landed on separate regions in al-Karada neighborhoods in central Baghdad, killing three persons and injuring six,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq – Voices of Iraq (VOI).“Al-Resala neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad was mortared, leaving four dead and 12 wounded,” he added.
During the past two days, several regions and neighborhoods in Baghdad were subjected to a series of mortar shell attacks, during which scores were killed and injured.SH
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:35 PM
Many people were killed or wounded by a U.S. air strike called to support Iraqi forces in the town of Hilla south of Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi security sources said.
U.S. forces confirmed the air strike and said they were not certain how many people had been killed but denied that there were large numbers of casualties.
One police source said at least 11 people were killed and 18 wounded in the strike, launched after Iraqi security forces called for support following street battles with Shi'ite militia members in the city's Thawra neighborhood.
Another police source said 29 people were killed and 39 were wounded. He said six houses were destroyed in the strikes which lasted for an hour late on Wednesday evening.
Two other security sources said the combined total of dead and wounded was in the dozens, although they were unable to give precise casualty figures. All of the sources spoke under condition they not be named, as is usual practice in Iraq.
Major Allayne Conway, spokeswoman for U.S. forces south of Baghdad, said U.S. helicopters had responded to a call for help from SWAT special police units in Hilla.
"The Hilla SWAT guys were on the ground. They were engaged. Our attack helicopters were called in. They engaged," she said.
"We're still checking how many enemy personnel were killed. The initial report I had was four."
Iraqi security forces have battled Shi'ite militia in several southern cities and Shi'ite areas of Baghdad for the past two days.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:08 PM
Five years ago when Pfc. Jessica Lynch was injured in Iraq, the media was swept up with her beauty and youth and for days and days there were reports on how she was recuperating and what really happened on that fateful day in Iraq.
But now it is five years later, and Jessica Lynch has dropped off the media radar screen, but we have an updae on what she has been doing and how started a foundation to help the children of wounded veterans.
Pfc. Jessica Lynch(injured U.S. soldier)
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23676590/?pg=2#iraq_watn_060303 (click on link to see picture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch)
THENOn March 23, 2003, just three days after the start of the invasion, a U.S. Army supply convoy traveling through Iraq took a wrong turn and was attacked in Nasiriyah, a key town on the road to Baghdad. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed and six captured, including Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old from West Virginia.
She suffered spinal fractures, nerve damage and a shattered right arm, right foot and left leg when her Humvee crashed.
Originally listed as missing in action, Lynch’s story gripped the nation and the world when the Pentagon announced that on April 1 she had been plucked from an Iraqi hospital by a Rangers unit, followed a day later with the release of dramatic footage of the rescue. In addition, the Rangers recovered the bodies of eight soldiers who had been killed in fighting with her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company. Stories also emerged of how Lynch had bravely fought off the initial attack.
Lynch was later airlifted for treatment in Germany and the United States. Following her release from hospital, she returned to a hero’s welcome in her hometown, Palestine, W.Va., and the arms of her fiancé, Sgt. Ruben Contreras, whom she had met during her military service. She also signed a deal, reported to be in excess of a million dollars, to write a book with former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, which went on to be a best-seller. In addition, she was the subject of an unauthorized TV movie, “Saving Jessica Lynch.”
Many of the original details of the attack and rescue were later questioned by many media outlets, and much criticism leveled at the Pentagon for creating what was described as a media spectacle. However, Lynch’s role and bravery in enduring her severe wounds has seldom been questioned.
NOWHer book behind her and her injuries largely healed, Lynch, who received an honorable discharge from the Army, started classes in August 2005 at West Virginia University in Morgantown, one of several universities that offered her a scholarship so she could achieve her dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher.
She later switched her major to journalism, telling an audience at the university on January 31, 2006, that her experiences with the press after her rescue had led to her decision “I just wanted to do something more interesting,” Lynch said with a grin, according to the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail.
Her relationship with Sgt. Contreras, however, faded. After postponing the wedding to 2004, the relationship cooled, leaving the pair as “just good friends,” according to a spokesperson.
Fortunately for Lynch, it was not long before she had a couple of new loves in her life – first a new fiancé, Wes Robinson, and on Jan. 9, 2007, a 7-pound, 10-ounce baby girl.
The couple named the baby Dakota Ann in honor of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, Lynch’s tentmate and former Fort Bliss roommate, who was killed in the attack that injured Lynch. Ann was Piestewa’s middle name, and Dakota came from the fact that Piestewa was part American Indian.
According to People magazine, Lynch, who still has some health problems from her time in Iraq, has moved to the Parkersburg campus of West Virginia University to be nearer her family and adapt to parenthood. The switch has led her to change her major back to elementary education – journalism is not offered in her new location.
She also told the Charleston Daily Mail that that she still gets lots of mail – including some that is none too complimentary.
“A lot of people hate me,” Lynch, told the paper. “In the beginning, people thought I didn’t deserve any attention or the book deal. I didn’t ask for any of that, anyway. After the book came out, I was hated by a lot.”
But she added, “People still want me to sign pictures, which is surprising. Four years later and you still want my autograph?”
According to the 2007 Daily Mail article, she obliges them as much as possible, but she doesn’t have the time to sift through her ever-growing mountain of mail. When she returned to West Virginia in July 2003, she had more than 30,000 letters waiting for her – and she has several tote bags stuffed with unopened mail, some of it dating back to 2003.
“One day, I want to sit down and go through it,” she said.
For now, the most important thing in life is her baby. Her mother, Dee Lynch, says she has taken to diapers and other duties like a duck to water.
“Jessi’s a natural,” she said. “You would think she’s had Dakota forever.”
On April 24, 2007, Lynch was back in the spotlight when she testified before a House committee investigating whether the Pentagon misled the American public about the experiences of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lynch was walking slowly, according to the Associated Press, when took her seat at the witness table along with relatives of former NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.
“The bottom line,” Lynch said in a determined tone, “is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.”
Despite the trauma of her capture and the continuing effects from her injuries, Lynch told the Morgantown, W.Va., Dominion Post in February 2008 that she would still join the Army and has "no regrets."
"My whole life now is getting up in the morning, going to school and taking care of my daughter," she told the paper.
Well, not quite. Lynch recently helped launch a campaign to help raise money for West Virginia University Children's Hospital in Morgantown.
According to KDKA in Pittsburgh, she is launching a new fundraising effort, called "Jessi's Pals," which will donate stuffed animals to patients at the hospital.
She also raises money for the Jessica Lynch Foundation, which was founded soon after her return from Iraq and helps children of veterans.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 2:32 PM
Pentagon studies have shown that each deployment leaves a soldier 60 percent more likely to suffer serious mental health problems. In support of that, as this president sends soldiers back into combat as many as five times in as many years, the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan acknowledges that suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 were up 20 percent from 2006, their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980. And the number of suicide attempts has increased sixfold since the Iraq war began.
Pentagon Holds Thousands of Americans "Prisoners of War"
By Penny Coleman, AlterNetPosted on March 26, 2008, Printed on March 26, 2008
Sgt. Kristofer Shawn Goldsmith was one of the many soldiers and Marines, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who gave testimony at last weekend's Winter Soldier investigation. They spoke from personal experience about what the American military is doing in those countries. They gave examples of what they had done, what they had been ordered to do, what they had witnessed, how their experiences had wounded them, both physically and psychically, and what kind of care and support they have, or most often have not gotten since coming home. The panel Goldsmith was on was called "The Breakdown of the U.S. Military," so he surprised the audience when he said that he was going to talk about prisoners of war.
He was not, however, going to talk about the three soldiers listed as missing in action on the Department of Defense website. He was referring to those who have been the victims of stop-loss, the device by which the president can, "in the event of war," choose to extend an enlistee's contract "until six months after the war ends." The "War on Terror" is this president's excuse for invoking that clause. Because that war will, by definition, continue as long as we insist that there is a difference between the terror inflicted on our innocents and the terror inflicted on theirs, American soldiers are effectively signing away their freedom indefinitely when they join the military. They are prisoners of an ill-defined and undeclared war on a tactic -- terrorism -- that dates back to Biblical times and will be with us indefinitely.
According to U.S. News and World Report, there are at least 60,000 of them.
"I was a great soldier once upon a time," Goldsmith says. He graduated at the top of his class in basic training and was on the commandant's list in the Warrior Leadership Course with a 94.6 percent average. He aced every test, mental and physical, received commendations and medals and promotions, but by the end of his first deployment he knew he was in serious trouble. His CSM (command sergeant major) Altman, however, had told his battalion, "If any of you go try to say you're depressed and thinking about killing yourself, you're going to get deployed anyway, and when we get there, you'll get to be my personal I.E.D. (improvised explosive device) kicker!" So he self-medicated; he drank. A lot. "All I wanted to do was black out."
What kept him going was the end that was in sight. He just had to hang on till his contract was up, and then he could go home, go back to school, and finally be a 20-year-old kid. Then days before he was scheduled to get out, his unit was locked down, stop-lossed as part of the surge. He was looking at another 18-month deployment.
At first he thought he was having a heart attack. It turned out to be a panic attack. He was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder, given a lot of pills and told he'd be fine. Or at least fine enough to go back.
The day before his unit was to deploy, Memorial Day 2007, he went out onto the memorial field at Ft. Stewart, where trees are planted for every soldier from 3rd Infantry Division killed in Iraq. He mixed pills and vodka, and tried to die.
He woke up handcuffed to a gurney and spent a week in a mental ward. His commanding officer tried to rip off his stripes and threatened to prosecute him for malingering, a court martial offense: He had tried to kill a U.S. Army soldier. Ultimately, he was given two Article 15s (nonjudicial punishment), one for malingering and one for missing movement (not deploying on time) and separated from the service with a general discharge stamped in big letters: "misconduct: serious offense." Under a general discharge, he lost all his educational benefits.
Sgt. Goldsmith's story is not necessarily more devastating than others I heard over the course of the four-day gathering. There were many that were told with equal courage and clarity, and that were equally revealing of important issues. But at some point as I listened to him speak, I realized that I was no longer listening as a journalist, I was listening as a mother. In 1971, the original Winter Soldiers were my age. This new generation are my children's. And this young soldier framed everything he had to say with a mother's worst nightmare: the death of a child.
The first picture Goldsmith showed was of a 10-year-old boy in "cammies," with dog tags on a chain around his neck, proudly offering his best boy scout salute. "That boy died in Iraq, " he says.
Another picture flashed on the screen, this time of a young soldier in real military camouflage, leaning out of a jeep and flashing a shit-eating boyish grin. It was a good day, the first day of his deployment to Iraq in 2005. That boy, too, Goldsmith told us, is dead.
Three years after that picture was taken, Sgt. Goldsmith doesn't look any older. In fact, sitting on the speakers' platform between two big Marines, he almost looks fragile. Even the Mohawk haircut doesn't come off as particularly tough. He may be fragile, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing fragile about what he has to say. Or the way he says it.
Goldsmith is from Bellmore, Long Island. On Sept. 11, 2001, he could see the smoke from the towers from his home. Like many Americans, he wanted to join the military to protect his country. He signed on as a forward observer, perhaps the most dangerous position on the battlefield.
In Iraq, he was stationed in Sadr City, one of the poorest and angriest of Baghdad's neighborhoods. Electricity was available for only 2-4 hours a day, sewage contaminated the water system, and the outside temperature often topped 130 degrees. American soldiers were charged with enforcing a curfew that kept locals locked inside their homes, away from the coffee shops or the rooftops or their neighbors' yards, for the only cool hours of the day.
Essentially rendering 3.2 million Iraqis prisoners of war. Goldsmith was among the prisoners guarding other prisoners.
Among the stories Goldsmith told was one about a little boy on a rooftop with a stick, pretending it was an AK47. He was yelling down at the Americans, angry, acting tough and posturing defiantly. Goldsmith trained his weapon on the kid and almost fired. Something made him stop, but when he told the story last weekend, you could hear the disbelief in his voice: "I almost took out a 6-year-old boy. I almost killed someone's son."
When a mass grave was discovered, he was ordered to take pictures of the dead. One after another, horrific images of death in partial decay went up on the screen. "Every one of these pictures is burned into my mind," he says. "I could draw them." And he remembers the flies. The flies had no particular preference for the living or the dead. They were "landing on the corpses ... And then they would land on my lips. They would land on my eyes. They would crawl up my nose. And I felt so violated and emotionally raped." It did not help to know that those images, ostensibly for identification purposes, were never shared with Iraqis hoping to find a missing loved one. They were trophies for a few armchair warriors who used them to "boost morale," to prove that Americans were really kicking haji butt. But for Goldsmith, the horror is indelible. It will never go away.
When they wanted him to go back for more, he despaired and tried to kill the 21-year-old he had become. Nothing made sense anymore.
I find it so painfully ironic that as other excuses for the war have been proven false, (weapons of mass destruction, U.N. sanctions, ties to Al-Queda, etc.) the administration has fallen back on the most unbelievable of all: freedom. While George Bush insists that Iraqis accept freedom, American style, one out of every 100 of our own citizens are in prison. Almost twice as many as the runner-up, China. Iraq is 62 on the list, though it is unclear whether that includes those being held by Americans. In this country, there are 2,258,983 in prison. That figure does not include the 723,000 locked up in local jails. Or the 60,000 stop-lossed soldiers.
There were several in the I-30 Infantry Battalion, and Goldsmith holds his sergeant major responsible. Like Goldsmith, these young soldiers are being told not only that they are prisoners, but that they are disposable. They are our children, and their deaths are on the hands of those who hold their freedom hostage.
Congress could put an end to this.
Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her website is Flashback.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 11:34 AM
The IRAQ capital city of BAGHDAD is witnessing some of the worst attacks in months as one more U.S. soldier is killed, mortar rounds continue to be fired into the GREEN ZONE injuring three AMERICAN civilians, and a string of bombings, shootings and other violent incidents on WEDNESDAY alone threaten to destroy any gains which have been made by the U.S MILITARY.
There is no doubt NOW that all the boasting about the success of "THE SURGE" was premature as witnessed by the following acts of VIOLENCE on WEDNESDAY alone in BAGHDAD.
Baghdad:#1: In addition, rockets and mortar shells rained down on U.S. troops around Baghdad, killing one American soldier, a U.S. military spokesman said. A dozen attacks targeted four U.S. bases and the International Zone, the fortified enclave in the heart of Baghdad that houses American and Iraqi government offices, Lt. Col. Steven Stover said.
#2: The fighting has killed 18 others in Baghdad and left scores injured. Officials say the dead in Basra include Iraqi troops, police, civilians and militiamen.
#3: In a further incident Wednesday, three U.S. government officials were seriously injured as militants targeted the International Zone in Baghdad, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said
.More mortars were fired at the Green Zone on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said, adding that one hit a residential building outside the heavily fortified complex killing one person and wounding four.
Around 5:30 a.m. three mortar shells hit the green zone. No reports about casualties.
Around 9:15 a.m. three mortar shells hit the green zone.
Around 1:00 p.m. mortar shells hit the green zone in downtown Baghdad. No reports about Casualties.Around 3:00 p.m. mortar shells hit the green zone. No casualties reported.
#4: A mortar or rocket round that apparently fell short also struck a minibus in the mainly Shiite district of Karradah, killing at least two passengers and wounding seven others, according to police and hospital officials.Two were killed and seven wounded when two rounds hit the central Al-Karada neighbourhood, the officials said.
#5: US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover said two members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in the suburb (Sadr City) late on Tuesday.
#6: Renewed fighting broke out around 1:00 am (2200 GMT Tuesday) in Sadr City, Baghdad bastion of the cleric's Mahdi Army militia, security officials said. Qassim al-Sueidi, head of the local Imam Ali hospital, said four people were killed and 24 wounded in the fighting in the impoverished northeast Baghdad neighbourhood of two million people.
#7: Sporadic clashes with Iraqi and US troops continued during the day (in Sadr City), witnesses said.A New York Times photographer who was able to get through the cordon found more layers of checkpoints, each one run by about two dozen heavily armed Mahdi Army fighters clad in tracksuits and T-shirts. Tires burned in the city center, gunfire echoed against shuttered stores, and teams of fighters in pickup trucks moved about brandishing machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
#8: Three people were killed and 12 wounded when three mortar rounds slammed into the Al-Risala neighbourhood of south-west Baghdad.
#9: Even before the crackdown on militias began on Tuesday, Pentagon statistics on the frequency of militia and insurgent attacks suggested that after major security gains last fall, the conflict had drifted into something of a stalemate. Over all, violence has remained fairly steady over the past several months, but the streets have become tense and much more dangerous again after a period of calm.
#10: At a checkpoint downtown, a policeman’s radio crackled with the news of the sniper shooting of a police officer in a nearby neighborhood.
#11: Five people were injured when members of Mahdi army opened fire targeting civilians in al Kifah neighborhood in downtown Baghdad around 8:30 a.m.
#12: Six people were inured when members of Mahdi army opened fire targeting civilians in Sadoun Street in downtown Baghdad around 9:00 a.m.
#13: A fourth shell hit one of the buildings in Salhiyah street near the green zone. One civilians was killed and 6 others wounded.
#14: Two civilians were wounded in an IED explosion in al Fallah intersection in Sadr city in East Baghdad around 11:00 a.m.
#15: Four civilians were inured in clashes between insurgents and the Iraqi national police in Shaab neighborhood in north Baghdad around 1:30 p.m.
#16: Around 2:00 p.m. clashes broke out between the Iraqi army and members of Mahdi army in Kadhemiyah neighborhood in North Baghdad. No casualties were reported.
#17: Four civilians were wounded when a mortar shell hit Beirut intersection in east Baghdad around 3:00 p.m.
#18: Three civilians were wounded in an IED explosion in Darwish intersection in Saidiyah neighborhood in South Baghdad around 3:00 p.m.+
PRESIDENT BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY AND FOX NEWS CONTINUE TO LIE TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC ABOUT HOW WELL THINGS ARE GOING IN BAGHDAD DESPITE ALL THAT WE HAVE REPORTED HAPPENING IN BAGHDAD ON WEDNESDAY ALONE.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 10:54 AM
It is now a test of wills.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told CNN he has given the Iraqi militants who have been responsible for 50 deaths in Basra just 72-hours to give up.
Elsewhere in Iraq, mortars were fired into the Green Zone and early reports are three American civilians working inside the Green Zone have been seriously wounded.
Iraq PM: Militants have 72 hours to surrender
Death toll in two days of fighting nears 50
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gives militants 72 hours to surrender
Followers of radical Shiite cleric urge disobedience over raids
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister Wednesday gave Shiite militants battling security forces in Basra a 72-hour deadline to surrender as the death toll from two days of fighting that threatens to undo efforts to stabilize Iraq neared 50.
Nuri al-Maliki gave the ultimatum a day after clashes erupted in the southern oil port city and Baghdad between Iraqi and U.S. security forces and fighters aligned with the Mehdi Army -- the militia of hard-line Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The fighting has killed 40 to 50 people in Basra, 18 others in Baghdad and left scores injured. Officials say the dead in Basra include Iraqi troops, police, civilians and militiamen.
In a further incident Wednesday, three U.S. government officials were seriously injured as militants targeted the International Zone in Baghdad, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said.
The renewed violence in Basra and Baghdad threatens to unravel a seven-months-long suspension of Mehdi Army activities, a much-praised cease-fire called by al-Sadr that the U.S. military says has decreased violence across Iraq.
Growing tension between the Sadrist movement and Iraqi authorities has boiled over in recent weeks, with Sadrists saying they have been unfairly targeted and detained in U.S. and Iraqi raids.
The U.S. military says it has been targeting Shiite militants who have flouted the al-Sadr cease-fire. A breakdown of the cease-fire and a renewal of street violence could affect U.S. military plans to withdraw and redeploy troops.
A Basra city council official said that the latest fighting erupted when security forces entered Mehdi Army strongholds, where militiamen were armed with machine guns, grenades, rockets and mortars.
The fighting erupted as al-Sadr's political organization launched a nationwide civil disobedience movement to protest recent arrests of its members.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 6:01 AM
U.S., British Back Anti-Sadr Offensive
By Sholnn Freeman and Sudarsan Raghavan Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, March 26, 2008; A01
BAGHDAD, March 25 -- Fierce gun battles erupted between Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias in Basra, Baghdad and other cities Tuesday as the government, backed by U.S. and British reconnaissance planes, launched an offensive aimed at breaking the power of politically backed gunmen.
The fiercest fighting took place in Basra neighborhoods where Iraqi forces targeted members of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, further risking the collapse of a cease-fire that Sadr declared last summer. His fighters' stand-down has been widely credited with helping curb violence throughout the country during the U.S. troop buildup known as the surge.
When the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker deliver a report card on the country before Congress next month, a key gauge of progress will be whether the Iraqi government and its security forces are prepared to take over as U.S. troops withdraw.
The offensive in Basra, an important test of that preparedness, was several weeks in the making. While it targets the Mahdi Army in particular, its goal is also to break the grip that other Shiite militias, criminal gangs and death squads hold upon the southern port city, the conduit for Iraq's oil exports. In recent weeks, the militias have often battled each other in the streets.
It was unclear why U.S. forces would take part in a broad armed challenge to Sadr and his thousands-strong militia on the eve of Petraeus's assessment, which the Bush administration has said would greatly influence its decision on whether to draw down troop levels.
But many Sadr followers view the offensive as the latest attempt by the United States and Sadr's Shiite rivals, who run Iraq's government, to take advantage of Sadr's cease-fire to weaken his movement politically ahead of provincial elections that could take place this year.
"We are really scared," said Aahad Hamid, 27, a Basra University employee whose voice quivered on the phone as Iraqi attack helicopters flew over the city. "We can hear the voice of the bullets."
In a sign of the offensive's importance, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flew to Basra on Monday to oversee operations.
By Tuesday evening, Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias had also clashed in the cities of Kut and Hilla, as well as outside Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City. Dusk-to-dawn curfews were imposed on at least six cities in southern Iraq, police said.
In Baghdad, mortars and rockets pounded the heavily protected Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and key Iraqi government offices, for the second time in three days. The attacks were apparently launched from Shiite enclaves. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said no deaths or injuries had been reported in Tuesday's attacks; an American civilian wounded in a similar barrage Monday was reported to have died.
In addition to resisting with arms, Sadr's movement led a labor strike for a second day in many parts of eastern and central Baghdad on Tuesday, demanding the release of Sadr's jailed followers and an end to Iraqi government raids. Sadrist leaders ordered stores to close and taxi and bus drivers to stop operations. Many neighborhoods turned into virtual ghost towns, their usually busy streets all but empty. Parents kept their children home from school.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:55 AM
More than a million Iraqis in Syria cannot find work. For their idleness, they have come to be called the "pillow drivers".
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are at least 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria.
By Maki al-Nazzal and Dahr Jamail*DAMASCUS, Mar 24 (IPS) -
If they seek work, they will lose their status as refugees. And so Iraqi refugees who were once doctors, engineers, athletes, artists and businessmen sit it out in Syria with nothing to do. "They call us the pillow drivers here," says Dr. Jassim Alwan who fled Baghdad after he was arrested by U.S. forces in 2003. "I was humiliated like an animal by those who call themselves soldiers of liberty, so I decided to flee to Syria." He has no work now, he says. "All I do is stay up late at night thinking of myself and my family's dark future, and sleep all day like a drugged man.
Most Iraqis do the same." Many Iraqi refugees gather at night at Damascus teahouses. They spend much of the night talking over strong Iraqi tea, some smoking the water pipe. "Not all of us can afford the water pipe," Salim Khattab, earlier an engineer from Mosul told IPS. "Most of us have run out of money after the long years of spending while there has been no income. I accepted a job of salesman for 100 dollars a month for a while, but I quit when I was asked to clean the shop and the doorsteps. A hundred dollars would not be enough for more than a few days anyway. Now I spend the days in bed waiting for night so I can meet my new friends."
Many Iraqis have turned to reciting poems about their condition, or trying to joke about it. Audiences do not always laugh; more often they have tears in their eyes. Some poets and writers frequent particular teahouses, and their fans follow them there. "Iraq has become the wasteland we've been reading about by (English poet T.S.) Eliot, and worse," said an Iraqi poet, who wanted his name withheld. "Those thieves who took over the country with the help of the bigger thieves, the occupiers, are the reason for our agony."
From the outside, such thoughts and observations are seen as idleness. Many Iraqi refugees ponder these days over their new status as "pillow drivers". "Better to be a pillow driver than worm feed my friend," Mohammad Adnan, who was a trader in Baghdad told IPS. "I think Americans invaded our country to turn us into good for nothing people. They want us to stay outside Iraq so that it stays retarded until they bring more capitalist corporations to loot what is left."
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said in a report Mar. 19 that there are 2.7 million Iraqis displaced within their own country, and another 2.4 million who have fled, mostly to Jordan and Syria. The IOM, an independent body that cooperates with the UN and its agencies, said the situation for Iraqis who are outside their country is deteriorating.
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Posted by Bill Corcoran at 3:02 AM
The tensions between the Shiites and Sunnis is mounting every day and in this video veteran reporter Pepe Escobar of The Real News Network shows what is happening in Basra and explains the delicate nature of conditions in Iraq.
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 2:55 AM
In case there ever was any doubt in any one's mind that Dick Cheney was calling all the shots about going to war with Iraq, you should view the two-part PBS "Frontline" series, "Bush's War."
It aired over the past two nights on PBS, but if you missed it, or would just like to see it again, click on this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/bushswar/
The two-part series takes you behind the scenes of the strategy that was being played out in the run up to the Iraq war and the disagreements that took place within the Bush administration and how they ignored the intelligence from the intelligence community to make a case for going to war with Iraq.
The eerie part of the series is it ends right where we are today. The various militias in Iraq are rising up and violence has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in just the past week alone.
We have passed the 4,000 mark of U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq and there are now close to 30,000 seriously wounded Americans who are recuperating from their wounds. Many of them are going to be disabled for life.
"Bush's War" IMO is the finest documentary ever made on the Iraq war and should be seen by everyone who is interested in just how the United States got bogged down in this quagmire which shows no signs of ever getting better.
Commentary by Bill Corcoran, editor of CORKSPHERE
Posted by Bill Corcoran at 1:33 AM