View Full Version : U.S., Allies Leave Mark On Iraq History
10-28-04, 08:08 AM
U.S., Allies Leave Mark On Iraq History
October 28, 2004
BABYLON, Iraq - Hammurabi the lawgiver was here. So were Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Saddam Hussein and now, apparently, Sgt. Woods and "O-Dog."
U.S. soldiers are the latest in a long line of powerful forces visited on ancient Babylon and they've left their mark, in graffiti scratched into walls Saddam added in hopes of joining his predecessors' pantheon.
"Folks come through here and are like: 'Kilroy was here,'" says Maj. David Gilleran, an Army chaplain, guiding 16 U.S. reservists among the crumbling mud-brick walls and shards of cuneiform-inscribed tablets.
Carrying automatic weapons, U.S. soldiers and their foreign allies tromp through the world-famous cradle of civilization, now within the walls of a military base run by Polish soldiers 50 miles south of Baghdad.
"You could almost say all roads lead to Babylon. This is a focal point in history. Alexander the Great was fascinated with Babylon. Saddam, too," said Gilleran, 50, from Daphne, Ala. "This place represents the greatness in human history. We're just passing through."
Iraqi security forces are supposed to take over the base by year's end, and Iraqis say they can't wait.
"For me, Americans and Polish, out!" a man at the site said in English. "Babylon is 4,000, 5,000 years (old). It's for all civilizations, not Americans. They must go." He asked not to be identified.
"The Americans are here. They've occupied the country and put Saddam away, and I think everyone appreciates that," said Donny George, a Ministry of Culture official who directed an archaeological dig at Babylon during Saddam's time.
"But going back to these ancient cities, it does nothing for the image of the Americans," George said.
The English-language graffiti isn't widespread and doesn't appear to have done extensive harm. Arabic script is also scrawled on the walls. Coalition forces have spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing ruins and protecting them from looters, and are investigating whether U.S. and Polish heavy machinery and rotor wash from helicopters are doing damage.
The city dates back some 4,000 years. Hammurabi, credited as the first ruler to encode law, made it his capital. His code, written 1,700 years before Christ, includes the timeworn maxim: "If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out."
Rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar more than 1,000 years later, the city boasted the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Nebuchadnezzar sent his vast army from here to Jerusalem to put down an uprising and bring the Jews back as slaves.
"Babylon surpasses in splendor any city in the known world," wrote Herodotus, the Greek historian, in the 400s B.C.
Alexander the Great died suddenly in Babylon around 320 B.C., possibly murdered by poison.
Saddam Hussein rebuilt atop Nebuchadnezzar's original walls, to the chagrin of archaeologists.
"There were direct orders from Saddam to put up the walls. As archaeologists, we didn't like this, but we couldn't say no at that time," George, the ministry official, recalled.
"Nebuchadnezzar unified the country in a well-organized government, in a real empire. Saddam was trying to imitate these ancient kings of the country, but it was just propaganda because Saddam did nothing good for the country or the people," he said.
The site, which includes a 2,600-year old stone lion, its snout missing, drew few foreign tourists during Saddam's paranoid regime.
Now coalition soldiers photograph Saddam's walls, studded with bricks recording his claims of glory.
"My kingdom will last forever," Gilleran translates from the classical Arabic script, to chuckles from the American soldiers.
Gilleran offers words of caution, though:
"America's a young country. We have Jamestown, Williamsburg. This is another, 3,000 years older. Americans need to stop and think a bit. We're a great power, but we weren't the first. We need to treat sites like this with reverence."
Then, pointing up to a Saddam-era palace looming over the ruins, he lays out his own scenario for the future:
"It's possible to imagine a Marriott ... with a five-star restaurant. There could be a bed and breakfast up there."
10-28-04, 08:09 AM
2 Navy SEALs Face Court-Martial Hearing
October 28, 2004
SAN DIEGO - Two Navy SEALs will face court-martial proceedings for allegedly assaulting a detainee who died at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Navy said Wednesday.
The two commandos from a Coronado-based Sea, Air, Land unit known as SEAL Team-7 also are accused of posing in photographs taken while the detainee was subjected to degrading treatment, according to court documents.
Neither of the two SEALs is charged with killing the prisoner.
Article 32 hearings, the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury, are set for Thursday and Friday at Naval Base San Diego for the two enlisted SEALs. The charges against them include aggravated assault, maltreatment, dereliction of duty and disobeying orders.
The Navy withheld the names of the two and identified them only as an aviation boatswain's mate and a hospital corpsman first class.
The boatswain's mate allegedly kicked, punched and kneed prisoners in Iraq. He also twisted prisoners' testicles and struck a prisoner in the buttocks with a wooden board, according to the charge sheets.
John Tranberg, a civilian defense attorney representing the boatswain's mate, said he believed the charges had been exaggerated. He was reluctant to comment further on the case, saying he was uncertain was information was classified.
The boatswain's mate also allegedly punched Manadel al-Jamadi, a suspect in an attack on a Red Cross facility, in the stomach and back, and encouraged another sailor to join in.
The following day - Nov. 4, 2003 - al-Jamadi was found dead in a shower at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. A military pathologist ruled that al-Jamadi died of blunt force trauma to the head.
The hospital corpsman is accused of punching, kicking and breaking fingers of prisoners. The corpsman also is accused of pointing a loaded firearm at al-Jamadi's head.
The alleged abuses occurred between October 2003 and April, according to the charge sheets.
Five other SEALs were implicated. Charges were dismissed Tuesday against a chief petty officer in a nonjudicial proceeding known as a captain's mast, said civilian defense attorney Jeremiah Sullivan. The chief petty officer was not present when al-Jamadi was captured and allegedly beaten by other members of the unit, Sullivan said.
The remaining cases have not been scheduled for Article 32 hearings, said Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado.
Defense attorneys for two of the accused say the charges of prisoner abuse were initiated by an ex-SEAL who earned the nickname "Klepto" for stealing a fellow SEAL's body armor in Iraq.
The ex-SEAL made the allegations while appealing a decision to kick him out of the SEALs for theft, according to Tranberg and Milt Silverman, another defense attorney for one of the SEALs. Silverman did not return a message seeking comment on Wednesday.
The attorneys also said al-Jamadi was in good condition when the CIA took custody of him. Memo a0718
bers of Seal Team-7 were part of Task Force 121, a special operations-CIA unit hunting targets in Iraq, according to an Army report on Abu Ghraib.
The CIA has declined to comment on the case.
10-28-04, 08:09 AM
Signs Point To Imminent Iraq Showdown
October 28, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - An uptick in airstrikes and other military moves point to an imminent showdown between U.S. forces and Sunni Muslim insurgents west of Baghdad - a decisive battle that could determine whether the campaign to bring democracy and stability to Iraq can succeed.
American officials have not confirmed a major assault is near against the insurgent bastions of Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi. But Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has warned Fallujah leaders that force will be used if they do not hand over extremists, including terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
A similar escalation in U.S. military actions and Iraqi government warnings occurred before a major offensive in Najaf forced militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to give up that holy city in late August. And U.S. and Iraqi troops retook Samarra from insurgents early this month.
Now U.S. airstrikes on purported al-Zarqawi positions in three neighborhoods of eastern and northern Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, have increased. And residents reported this week that Marines appeared to be reinforcing forward positions near key areas of the city. Other military units are on the move, including 800 British soldiers headed north to the U.S.-controlled zone.
The goal of an attack would be to restore government control in time for national elections by the end of January. However, an all-out assault on the scale of April's siege of Fallujah would carry enormous risk - both political and military - for the Americans and their Iraqi allies.
A series of policy mistakes by the U.S. military and the Bush administration have transformed Fallujah from a shabby, dusty backwater known regionally for mosques and tasty kebabs into a symbol of Arab pride and defiance of the United States throughout the Islamic world.
A videotape obtained Tuesday by Associated Press Television News featured a warning by masked gunmen that if Fallujah is subjected to an all-out assault, they will strike "with weapons and military tactics" that the Americans and their allies "have not experienced before."
Regardless of whether the threat was an empty boast, insurgents elsewhere in Iraq could be expected to step up attacks to try to relieve pressure on fighters in the Fallujah and Ramadi areas.
But the main problem an assault would pose for both the U.S. military and Allawi's government is political, such as a widespread public backlash. A nationwide association of Sunni clerics also has threatened to urge a boycott of the January elections if U.S. forces storm Fallujah.
So Iraqi officials appear anxious to convince the public that they have made every effort to solve the Fallujah crisis peacefully. The government spin is that the people of Fallujah are held as virtual hostages of armed foreign terrorists. Although Fallujah leaders insist there are no more than a few foreign fighters in the city, Arab journalists who have visited say they heard non-Iraqi accents at some checkpoints.
U.S. and Iraqi officials hope the Iraqi people are so fed up with suicide attacks, assassinations and kidnappings - many of them believed orchestrated from Fallujah and Ramadi - that they will acquiesce to the use of force.
"There are terror groups in this city who are taking human shields," Iraq's deputy prime minister for national security, Barham Saleh, said Wednesday, referring to Fallujah. "We are working hard to rid the people of Fallujah of them and to let security and stability prevail across Iraq."
In the event of an attack, Iraqi insurgents, who have skillfully used the Internet as a propaganda tool, would likely attempt to muster opposition in the Arab world with graphic accounts of the suffering and death of innocent women and children caught up in the fighting.
It's a tactic that worked when Marines attacked in Fallujah last April seeking to root out foreign fighters and capture the killers of four American security contractors whose mutilated bodies were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.
The attack was called off within weeks - reportedly on orders from the White House - after a wave of outrage among Sunni Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere over reports that hundreds of civilians had been killed. Ghazi al-Yawer, now the interim president, and other leading Sunni politicians threatened to resign from the then-Iraqi Governing Council if the assault did not stop.
After the Marines pulled back, the city fell under the control of extremist clerics and their mujahedeen allies, who had defended Fallujah against the Americans. The Fallujah Brigade, organized from residents to assume security duties, melted away within a few months.
Weeks after the siege ended, Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi and others complained that the April agreement enabled insurgents to transform Fallujah into a sanctuary. The wave of car bombings and the beheading of foreign hostages that accelerated after the end of the Fallujah fighting seemed to validate those criticisms.
To avoid a repeat of the April political disaster, the Iraqi government has been preparing the public for a showdown. On Wednesday, Allawi said more extremists were flooding into Fallujah.
Although negotiations with Fallujah clerics broke down this month, government ministers maintain they are still in contact with community leaders in hopes they will hand over al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom the clerics insist is not in the city.
10-28-04, 08:10 AM
Uncertainty Remains Over Explosives
October 28, 2004
There appear to be two periods of time when the 377 tons of high explosives missing from a military facility in Iraq could have been moved or stolen - in the weeks before the U.S. invasion began or several weeks in April after U.S. troops overran the Al-Qaqaa base and moved on to Baghdad.
Iraqi officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency two weeks ago that the explosives vanished as a result of "theft and looting ... due to lack of security."
The ministry's letter said the explosives were stolen sometime after coalition forces took control of Baghdad on April 9, 2003. But they have not been able to explain how they know when the explosives were removed from bunkers sealed by the IAEA as part of the weapons inspection program.
The disappearance of the explosives has raised questions about why the United States didn't do more to secure the facility and failed to allow full international inspections to resume after the invasion. It has also become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
The Kerry campaign called the disappearance the latest in a "tragic series of blunders" by the Bush administration in Iraq. The White House has issued a statement saying that the matter is under investigation and the explosives may have been moved before the invasion.
IAEA Inspectors report that they checked the seals placed on the bunker storing stockpiles of HMX and RDX kept at al-Qaqaa on March 9. There have been reports that another IAEA team checked the site on March 15, but that has yet to be confirmed.
Until March 20, when coalition forces attacked Iraq, the explosives could have been moved to another location without risk of being intercepted by U.S. air or ground forces. U.S. attack jets patrolled Iraq's major highways after March 19 in search of military targets to destroy.
Iraqi forces were still at the al-Qaqaa complex on April 3 when Task Force 3-15 of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division arrived, said Col. Dave Perkins, who commanded the brigade.
Troops reported seeing the gates open and several hundred troops were defending the site, Perkins said Wednesday.
The infantrymen's mission was to destroy any Iraqi troops in the area and, after defeating the forces in the facility, the task force moved north on April 6 to prepare for the assault on Baghdad. The 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division was the first U.S. unit to enter central Baghdad on April 7.
U.S. troops passed through more than a dozen Iraqi military facilities on the march from the Kuwait border to Baghdad, and while cursory checks were made for suspected weapons of mass destruction, large ammunition, weapons and explosives dumps were left unguarded. Commanders reported the coordinates of these sites to higher headquarters so rearguard troops could take care of them.
Perkins, now a staff officer at the Pentagon, said that while some looting at the site had taken place, a large-scale operation to remove the explosives using multi-ton trucks would have almost certainly have been detected.
There were virtually no civilian vehicles on the roads in late March and early April. U.S. military police patrolled the major roads, which U.S. forces used extensively to resupply the troops in Baghdad.
Perkins described Iraq as littered with weapons, and the Qaqaa base was one munitions depot among many. Many other depots his forces found had been cleaned out, with weapons scattered, presumably so they wouldn't be destroyed by airstrikes.
"We came upon a lot of these sites," he said. "What we found all the way up was dispersed munitions, dispersed weapons."
On April 10, the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division arrived at the perimeter of al-Qaqaa, but did not enter it, said Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, deputy public affairs officer for the unit. After 24 hours, the unit moved on, without inspecting the bunkers sealed by the IAEA.
The first team with orders to search the facility for dangerous weapons arrived on May 8 to inspect the Latifiyah Phosgene Facility, which was part of the al-Qaqaa complex, Pentagon officials said. Another team inspected a missile and rocket facility also located at al-Qaqaa on May 11.
The ammunition storage areas were not inspected until May 27, when the team reported widespread looting of the entire complex. This team reported that the IAEA seals and the high explosives were missing.
Throughout Iraq, civilians looted military facilities for anything of potential value between April 11 and May 27, when there were not enough U.S. troops on the ground to stop them.
High explosives, such as HMX and RDX, do not explode when exposed to flame, rather burn at a high temperature, which makes them useful for cooking.
10-28-04, 08:11 AM
Soldier Uses His Scars To Assist Others
October 28, 2004
WASHINGTON - Go ahead. J.R. Martinez doesn't mind if you ask him about the scars on his face, head, neck, arms and hands. He knows how he looks to others. The 21-year-old U.S. Army corporal was so horrified the first time he looked at himself in a mirror that he stopped eating, refused to speak to anyone and seriously considered killing himself.
He has had 27 surgeries - the longest lasted 11 hours - in the 18 months since a land mine planted in Kabala, Iraq, turned him into a human fireball and trapped him inside the Humvee he was driving. His buddies finally pulled him out, and his sergeant cradled his head in his hands like he was a baby, rocking him back and forth, telling him that he was going to be all right.
All Martinez could do was scream: "My face! My face! My face!" Each time he would try to touch his face, his sergeant would swat his arm away. When they loaded him onto a Black Hawk helicopter, Martinez passed out. He woke up three weeks later.
Now he uses his scars to help other soldiers. "To catch people's attention," he said. "I am so confident that if you will sit down and talk to me, that you will not notice the scars anymore. You will see that I am still a human being, that I have a sense of humor and like to go and have a good time."
Martinez is a spokesman for the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a McLean, Va.-based organization founded last spring by Roger Chapin, a West Coast businessman who has created several nonprofit veterans support groups dating to the Vietnam War.
Martinez has been recruiting wounded soldiers at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, as well as Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The coalition was formed to help soldiers severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan with job training and placement as well as modifying homes or building new ones for soldiers who use wheelchairs.
The coalition is planning its inaugural "Road to Recovery Conference and Tribute" at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., in early December. Chapin said the coalition will cover all expenses for veterans and their families who attend the conference.
As of last week, Chapin said, 618 soldiers and their families had registered. There is room for about 1,200 guests.
Chapin has pledged money to help fund the conference. He also is holding a fund-raising lunch in November in Washington, D.C., with retired Gen. Tommy Franks as the featured speaker. Chapin founded Help Hospitalized Veterans in 1971. He raised more than $12 million to distribute 880,000 gift packs to soldiers during the Persian Gulf War.
The December conference would be the largest gathering of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and wounded soldiers. In addition to entertainment, the soldiers will hear from motivational speakers and be offered seminars on education, job training and employment opportunities.
"I think there will be a lot of mutual reinforcement going on," Chapin said. "The soldiers will be able to make new friendships, and their families will have a chance to bond."
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi has agreed to have his department be part of the conference.
Chapin said he formed the coalition to honor the wounded and to offer practical help, advice and support as they make a transition to new lives - some badly scarred like Martinez and others missing arms, legs or the ability to move any muscle below the neck.
"Particularly with paraplegics," Chapin said, "it is important to get a guy a meaningful job that has the potential to give him a productive and rewarding future. It is too easy for a lot of these guys to take a disability check and say, 'To hell with it.'"
Martinez met Chapin when the businessman took about 30 wounded soldiers at Brooke Army Medical Center to lunch. Martinez was so moved by Chapin's desire to help him and his fellow soldiers that he volunteered to help spread the word.
Martinez's mother, Maria, came to the United States from El Salvador in the early 1980s to escape the war there. He has an older sister who still lives in El Salvador.
Martinez was born in Shreveport, La., and grew up there and in Hope, Ark., before moving to Dalton, Ga., his senior year in high school to play football, aiming at a college football scholarship. His dream was to play in the NFL.
His football plans were derailed because he had not taken enough college-prep classes to get into a Division I college. A few weeks after graduating from high school, he ran into an Army recruiter and decided to join.
In September 2002, he went to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. In March 2003, he shipped out to Iraq.
On April 5, 2003, Martinez was at the wheel of a Humvee, part of a convoy escort. He remembers turning toward the three others in the vehicle as they joked about how "cool" it would be to get a Purple Heart.
"I just turned my head back to the road, and boom," Martinez said.
The Humvee burst into flames. He couldn't move. He remembers red and orange flames all around him and his eyes closing tightly involuntarily. He'd open them, be blinded by the light and they'd close again.
He had a vision of his mother, standing beside a grave, being handed a folded U.S. flag. Then there was another vision. His sister, Anabelita, who had died at age 9 from an illness she had had since birth, came to him. "She told me I couldn't go because my mom needed me. When I heard that, I just started screaming."
The next thing he remembers was being on the ground, his sergeant holding him, the skin on his face, arms and hands practically melted away. Then there was darkness when he passed out and was transported first to Kuwait, then to Germany and finally to Brooke Army Medical Center.
When he awoke after three weeks, his mother was there. Parts of his ears were removed because they were so badly burned. His internal organs had been severely damaged when he inhaled the heat and smoke.
The lowest point was the day he looked in the mirror for the first time. He was devastated and angry, and lost his will to live. His mother rescued him from his despair. "I know what your problem is," he recalled his mother telling him. "You are worried about girls. You are 19, and you are worried about not being able to get girls."
"Mom, look at me," said, Martinez who had always taken pride in his appearance.
They talked for a long time and, gradually, Martinez began to think of himself other than the face he saw in the mirror. He has taken that image of his sister appearing to him in the burning Humvee as a sign of what he should do.
"My sister works through me, I believe," he said. "I think my sister is the one who gives me the courage to do what I do today - to go out and speak to people. I think honestly ... this is my personal mission in life."
So he travels the hospital wards, using his scars to tell his story, to comfort and encourage and to recruit for the coalition. He has another surgery scheduled between now and December, but he is looking forward to the conference in Orlando.
"It will be very emotional to gather so many troops together at one time in one place," he said. "We'll be able to talk to each other and say, 'Look, this is how I've dealt with things - you can do the same.'
10-28-04, 08:12 AM
October 27, 2004
Fewer Marines expected to deploy to Iraq next year
By C. Mark Brinkley
Times staff writer
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The number of Marines deployed to Iraq is expected to decrease next year because the size of the Iraqi national security force is on the rise, Marine officials said Wednesday.
Plans for a turnover of Marine operations in Iraq early next year include more than 14,000 troops from the II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to rotation plans released Wednesday. Even with additions from I MEF and Marine Forces Reserve, the number of Marines in Iraq is expected to fall far short of the 25,000 deployed for previous rotations.
“We expect there will be more Iraqi security forces trained and equipped by the time we deploy,” said Maj. Jason Johnston, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington. “Over time, the idea is for Iraqi security forces to take over, with support from us.”
The total number of Marines who will deploy for the 2005-06 rotations was not immediately available.
As of Oct. 22, there were more than 100,000 members in the Iraqi security forces. The current plan is to increase the size of the force to about 145,000 by January. Thousands of police officers have recently graduated from academies and more than 5,000 are in the pipeline for training, according to Defense Department estimates. So far, units with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I MEF have shouldered the bulk of the Iraq mission, augmented by II MEF units. The new plan calls for the two groups to switch places, with II MEF leading the charge alongside additions from the West Coast.
Units will begin deploying in January, and are expected to assume operational control of their assigned area in March, according to II MEF officials. Leading the group is Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, who is scheduled to turn over command of 2nd Marine Division on Nov. 10 and assume command of II MEF (Forward).
“This Marine Air-Ground Task Force will truly be a team effort, drawing equally on units across the spectrum of Marine Corps capabilities, augmented by units and service members from the Army, Navy and Air Force,” Johnson said in a release. “We have watched with excitement and anticipation the great work being done in western Iraq by I MEF and its subordinate units and II MEF (Forward) is ready and fully capable of continuing that fine effort.”
While the command elements will change, the duration of the deployment won’t. Marine officials said units will deploy on two seven-month rotations, the first from March to September 2005 and the second from September 2005 to March 2006.
The ground combat element — led by Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, formerly the assistant deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs — will include in its first rotation Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, all reinforced with armor and other heavy firepower from 2nd Marine Division units. Augmenting ground units from I MEF and the Reserve for the first rotation have not been announced, nor have units to be included in the second rotation.
Air power will be provided by Marine Aircraft Group 26, Marine Air Control Group 28, and Marine Wing Support Group 27, all reinforced with other units from the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.-based 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. The aviation combat element will be commanded by Col. Robert E. Milstead Jr.
C. Mark Brinkley is the Jacksonville, N.C., bureau chief for Marine Corps Times.
10-28-04, 09:03 AM
Straight from Iraq, a former Daily editor speaks
October 28, 2004
The Michigan Daily
University alum David Enders has spent more than a year reporting in Iraq through freelance articles and his weblog 'From Ann Arbor to Beirut to Baghdad.' He started the Baghdad Bulletin, the first English language publication in post-war Iraq, in the summer of 2003. In September, he was back in Ann Arbor for a day, and Daily columnist Steve Cotner caught up with him to ask about his experiences.
The Michigan Daily: In your writings for the Daily, you expressed a desire to make change in the world. Do you still view your role as a journalist as making change? And have you become more cynical since your time in Iraq, or are you more enthusiastic about what you can do?
David Enders: I don"t think I"ve particularly become more cynical. I still view my place as a journalist as, you can make change, you can report things that no one else is reporting, and you can report things of value that no one else is reporting, and that will give people a different view on what"s happening and it will allow them to have more information. That"s where change comes from, I think, is people having the full information, knowing everything they should know.
Cynical, in a way. I"ve become more cynical, but it hasn"t mitigated that feeling. Inevitably you"re going to become more cynical when you can actually start tracing the names in the Pentagon that were people who were saying 'well let"s make this guy telecommunications minister because we share a cell phone contract with him now'. and anytime you get that personal with something like that, you"re going to become more cynical. it"s just disgusting to see human nature at its worst.
TMD: But that just gives you more energy to seek out those things?
DE: In a way, yeah. Yeah, because you start to see that it"s human, and that it"s no longer this big machine, this big Orwellian thing, but it breaks down into specific people and you can see that they"re no different than you or I, it"s just that they"re using their motivations differently. It humanizes the whole thing.
TMD: How resistant were U.S. forces to journalists, and how did they respond to your presence?
DE: The soldiers were very friendly. The actual groundtroops were extremely friendly. For better or for worse, the embed phenomenon gave them a lot respect for reporters, because there were guys humping along with them, same ****, three months without a shower, under fire. And the soldiers initially built up a great respect for reporters. On the other end, at the command level there was a lot of hostility. I got kicked out of military bases for asking soldiers who they were going to vote for. But then on the other hand, when I would be driving somewhere outside Baghdad and see soldiers on the side of the road, on a mission, on patrol, you could walk up to them and say, 'Hey what"s up' and they would be so ****ing shocked that you were walking down the road in the middle-of-nowhere-Iraq speaking American English, that the instant credibility created instant dialogue. And it was also interesting, too, most of them were my age. I was younger, so I was able to talk to them the way most correspondents can"t. And occasionally I would go out on quote on quote embeds and be with the soldiers officially, and even then I could still... they went in this market where I"d been many times a civilian, and then I went in with them, wearing a flack jacket with the soldiers. You know, because, on the one hand, I can pass for Iraqi. I can speak enough Iraqi Arabic to get in and out of a taxi, ask questions. But then the minute I"m a soldier, I"m very evidently American. But then I can say things in Arabic and ask them to talk to this guy. They"d been tearing down posters of one particular leader in a market, and I said, 'Well why don"t we ask this guy why he supports this leader?' And you could actually create weird dialogue with the troops and Iraqis that they wouldn"t get otherwise, had they been even out with a reporter who hadn"t spent any time as a civilian in Baghdad. So with the actual troops it was extremely friendly, and you know, a lot of them don"t want to be there, don"t understand why they"re there, they"ve been given virtually no training on how to deal with it. And then the command level"s exactly the opposite. The less the journalists know, the less you"re going to see pictures of naked people being tortured in prison on television.
TMD: Right. Well, you were embedded some. Did you meet any of the big name embedded journalists early on?
DE: You always run across people. I run across people from the New York Times a lot, CNN once in a while. Throughout the time I"ve been there, I"ve run across quote on quote mainstream corporate journalists.
TMD: Did you notice any difference in the way they covered the war, and maybe any restrictions on your coverage while embedded?
DE: It depended. While embedded, it was at the discretion of the public affairs officer for the military at the particular place I embedded, whether he wanted to follow me everywhere I went, bathroom included, to make sure that I wasn"t getting anything that was out of his earshot. And others were like, 'Go hang with these guys if you like, I"ll pick you up later, spend all day on base, go to lunch, talk to people, whatever.' And so, sometimes public affairs officers would hamper you, other times they would not. And that just varied person to person. There was very little cohesion among all of them.
TMD: Was it like some people were following official policy and some were skirting it?
DE: No, they"re given a great amount of leeway and do things as they see fit. And they still can"t really stop you from printing what people say. At one point, this colonel went off on this absolutely Dr. Strangelove rant. You know, white man"s burden, neocolonialist, we have to bring these people paved roads, and whatever. And the public affairs office was like, after we left, was like 'you"re not going to print any of that?' I"m like, 'Well maybe. You can"t stop me. You might not let me back in, request me again to come visit that particular camp.' He probably wouldn"t let me back in, because I printed a lot of it. It was a ****ing bizarre thing for a man in charge of 3,000 people to be saying, and it"s quite disturbing. But that"s about the amount of control they have. They can restrict access, following you printing something they don"t appreciate. And often times they do. I got kicked out of the house Saddam Hussein was captured in...
TMD: In Vietnam, which is of course very different, there would be troops who would speak out about war atrocities, and they"d be told 'Don"t ever say another word, or you"re not going to come back home.' But it wasn"t that kind of situation at all?
DE: No. There"s a lot of self-censorship that goes on. We would take CNN to different places, and sometimes they wouldn"t follow us all the way through. We"d be like, 'Hey, there"s some refugees from Fallujah, they"re in Baghdad this week.' And they would turn back, because the part of town that we were going to would be unacceptable to their security advisor. And so, a considerable amount of self-censorship, generally based on a perception of danger that wasn"t always there. And the military promulgated that on a general level by shooting a dozen journalists in the last year. So, you can"t trust the American military not to ****ing kill you if you"re not in shouting distance to where you can go, 'Hey I"m a ****ing American.' And if they hear that, they"re usually very friendly, they"ll still point their guns at you sometimes. But, you know: 'don"t do that,' and they"ll stop. Can I bum a smoke?
DE: I"m quitting, really.
TMD: Me too. It seems like in mainstream coverage we are never allowed to experience Iraq one person at a time--it"s always the eye of the military, or some other vantage point, but never on a personal level--whereas you"ve described, in your blog and your articles, the troops and the Iraqi people as they are in front of you, what they do and say, the things they eat, the prayer mats that they pray on. What do you hope to accomplish by that kind of writing? Is it an appeal to people"s common humanity?
DE: To some extent, I would say so. You just identified it yourself. This is what we lack in mainstream, or call it what you will, coverage, is the man on the street level notion that there is a daily life that takes place in Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, wherever. And that there are logical reasons why people fight, or people don"t fight, or take any course of action. And those get so truncated in a four minute television spot for the nightly news, if that. And so, it takes more time to read something like that, it takes more time to say, 'Ok I"m going to look at this article that is about this one person, this one place, and this is how they live their life.' And it"s a commitment that"s necessary from the reader. But I and a few other journalist who do it, we"re trying to close that gap. We"re trying to give a notion of what life is like for these people, before what we did affected their lives and afterward, and how it affects them personally. I"ve had articles cut from major magazines, because editors will not buy this notion that things are worse now than they were before. And you need to do ground level, human level, first person reporting to get that sense. But it"s actually there, and the only way people are going to realize certain feelings exist or certain things are the way there are is by interviewing one person at a time and hearing the story they have to tell. It"s a long process, but it"s very necessary.
TMD: On the other side of things, you have many people who aren"t getting that perspective. In the sixth issue of the Baghdad Bulletin, which came out about this time last year, J. Hannay from Dallas, Texas, wrote in to say 'The truth is Iraqis are their own worst enemies, not ours. The US can always retreat to Fort Rumsfeld in Free Kurdistan, let Iraq be Iraq with the promise that if the country follows the usual Muslim path we will kick their *** again ... and again ... and again until they get it right.' Your paper was printed and distributed in Iraq and published online for the whole world to see. What do this person"s words mean to you, and what do you think they mean to the rest of the world reading them?
10-28-04, 09:04 AM
DE: The reason I printed that, and I take entire responsibility--I was the editor of the magazine--is because I got ****loads of letters like that. I felt like, in printing that, I was representing a fairly widespread view held by a fairly widespread number of Americans, a very pejorative, very racist, very frightening, frightening view. But I think that"s a big part of what allowed us to get involved in the first place and to invade another country, with very little idea of what happens there. In distributing that to both Iraqis and Americans, and people worldwide, I wanted to highlight that, like in any country--you see people burning down synagogues in France, and you see this in the KKK in America--that there are large movements that are extremely racist and frightening, and that you have to be aware that these exist and that they do occasionally hold influence and precipitate certain things. If there weren"t people in the US who thought like this, I don"t think an invasion of Iraq would have been possible. People were very willing to write it off as a backward *** Muslim country, you know, '**** the ragheads.' You hear this from troops, you hear this from Americans carrying guns and patrolling the country. I"ve asked people who"ve been in both places, what"s the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan? 'Nothing, it"s a bunch of dirty Muslims who want to kill me.' Once you"re saying that, you"ve got to transmit to people that this is a view, and that this is something that you need to attack constructively and to deal with. And this is where that first person, ground level reporting comes back in, to show that they"re (Iraqis) regular people, like anyone else, who do things for a reason. It"s not irrational. (To his friend Becca) You said earlier that the entire thing with Saddam Hussein hinges on this ability to say that he"s ****ing nuts, that he"s not a rational actor.
Becca: And that he"s not human.
B: There"s every attempt to define human within the context of a rational Western capitalist consumer, and to assume that a certain lifestyle that doesn"t even exist for most Americans constitutes humanity, and because that lifestyle isn"t available to them, we can automatically assume they"re insane. I remember reading an article shortly after we invaded Afghanistan. I think it was the International Herald Tribune, so it either came from the Post or the Times. And it began with this description--for one thing, this was the same issue where they printed two articles side by side that gave different casualty numbers for the same event. Awesome, guys. But there was an article that began by describing this silly little Afghani man, 'hopping off his camel to watch the bombs go off in the distance over the mountains, as if they were fireworks,' or something, or some sort of comparison to a spectatorial event. It was the most terrifying couple of sentences I had ever read. It"s not a Disney movie. People are dying.
DE: Writers for the New York Times--their chief foreign correspondent has quoted T.E. Lawrence at length to explain why Iraqis think a certain way.
DE: John Burns.
B: T.E. Lawrence?
DE: Lawrence of Arabia. He quoted the seven pillars of wisdom at length, at one point, to explain why Iraqis think a certain way. And this is supposedly the paper of record. That"s a serious problem.
B: Harper"s printed part of a 'cultural assimilation guide,' I think is what it must have been, for the marines, awhile ago, that may as well have been lifted from some 19th century Orientalist text. It"s incredible how little progress we"ve actually made in terms of global thinking since 1860.
DE: Edward Said spins in his grave. I feel terrible for that man. He spent how many decades, trying to reverse this, trying to point this out, and yet it still continues in earnest.
B: Because nobody will recognize that it"s a problem. One of our greatest accomplishments, I think, in terms of maintenance of this system, is the cultivation of an absolute denial of history, or historical connectedness at least. This obsession with progress forward is an amazingly powerful cultural force. It doesn"t allow us to see that many of these patterns came straight out of time periods which we view as absurd and terribly violent.
DE: And you have to highlight that there is resistance to this worldwide, as far as ex-pats. At the magazine I worked with mostly British kids, and they were resisting and reacting to this notion as well. I"ll forward you an email from one of my colleagues that basically said, 'To not go to Baghdad would have been a crime.' We got questioned a lot for going, and for why we were willing to do what we did. And the fact of the matter is, being unwilling to do what we did would have been a great crime and disservice. Being in the position that we were allowed to do it and able to do it, to not have done it would have been terrible.
TMD: I don"t know if it was one of your friends that originally started the paper with you, but one of your friends was taken hostage.
DE: James, right.
TMD: And he was a freelance journalist like yourself? What was the response from other journalists and other connections that he had, to get him help?
DE: Everybody gave him a hand. People really slammed ... we kind of had a good idea of who had taken him hostage. And that"s a contingency that you plan for. Like, I have a list of phone numbers, anytime I go out, one of my colleagues, my Iraqi friends, knows who to call, should something like that happen to me. There"s some groups you can"t deal with, that will not negotiate, that will not listen. The Sadr guys are usually pretty good, you can get a hold of them, you can get a hold of their leaders. They have a structure that you can work with.
TMD: And when that hostage-taking took place, were there certain demands?
DE: Well they wanted the Americans out of Najaf, which they knew was ridiculous. That wouldn"t happen. They wanted TV time, they wanted exposure, and they got that and then let James go, once there were enough people saying 'This guy"s a journalist, he"s not a spy.' They"re in a very tense situation. A lot of the Sadr militia is illiterate, young, and there are people actively trying to destroy them, so they have to be very careful about their own security. It"s an understandable situation. It"s a situation in which all of us work and accept. And so, it was a matter of proving to them and convincing them and calling the people we knew, and saying, 'Hey, James is a journalist, he"s spent a ****load of time here, he cares. Here"s some stuff he"s written, please look at it and please release him,' and they did.
TMD: If you assume that they knew he was a journalist when they took him, it could have been a strategic...
DE: He could have been anyone when they took him. Foreigners in Basra are lumped in a choice few hotels. When I went down to Basra as a journalist, I stayed with a family, to generally avoid the rest of the international community who are definitely targets in that part of Iraq, and who are in a great amount of danger. James stayed in a fortified hotel, where there probably were contractors staying, and he was unfortunately taken, as a foreigner. Not as a journalist, as a foreigner. And he was released when it was established he was a journalist.
TMD: Did he go home right after that?
DE: Yeah. He"s considered going back, but he went home shortly thereafter. He"d been beaten up pretty badly. And, when they turn you over to the British or the Americans, generally their first thing is to get you out of the country as quickly as possible. And being kidnapped, from people I know who"ve had it happen to them, is an extremely traumatic experience. You don"t really want to stick around after that for very long. He may go back. It depends. He"s very concerned about the way his family will take it if he goes back.
TMD: It must be different for each person; what"s the breaking point at which you say, 'That"s it, I need to get out of here?'
DE: That"s pretty much it. I left the week before that happened, and I had been there four months. And I had spent most of my time while I was there with the Sadr militia, who kicked off their second intifada a day or two before I left. And I really wanted to be covering that. There were people I knew who died fighting, very quickly after I left, very shortly after I left. And it was weird, for me, it was the first time I really felt ownership over a story, that I felt I could really say, 'I can do this better than the people who are down there doing this.' And I still couldn"t mentally or physically, at that point, handle the rigors of going into battle, going in to cover fighting, and knew I had to leave. So I think everybody has their own break point, but I think it"s largely psychological. I spent a lot of the time with the Sadr fighters as they prepared for this intifada, sitting there with people who are openly discussing, 'We are going to kill Americans. We are going to go kill those troops. We don"t like them here, we don"t want to kill them, but we have to kill them. This is what it"s come to.' So at that point, I was pretty juiced and left. I knew I didn"t have it in me to cover the fighting, regardless of if it was people I knew or not, and people I liked and people I hung out with.
10-28-04, 09:04 AM
TMD: So it wasn"t so much that you were exhausted by a continuous string of horrible things; it was that it was heightening at that point and you had to get out?
DE: No, it was definitely that. Had I gotten there a couple weeks beforehand, I would have stayed to cover the fighting. But there gets to be a point where you just can"t quite take anymore, and you know what"s going to happen. I covered the run-up. Some of my other friends covered the fighting. And you know, we"ll talk when I"m back there. We"ll talk about what happened. I have a window on part of it, and they have a window on the other part. But mentally you have to be ready to extricate yourself. And that"s the difference between being a correspondent and being an Iraqi, is you can extricate yourself when you need to. When I left, I took a couple of my friends with me to Jordan for a vacation--Iraqis--and they needed to get out worse than anything. We helped a couple people get out who just can"t handle the situation anymore. It"s become too dark, they"ve become too involved. Even in the major news media, there are lots of Iraqis who separate themselves as much as they can from the conflict, but once it becomes very real and very personal, they also need a break. And they"ve had to go back. I"m allowed to come out here. So hopefully I can offer them some support from outside the country.
TMD: In one of your weblogs, you described the job someone had before coming to Iraq as the thing they did "in the real world." That statement might sound strange to a person on this side of things--on this side of the media--who would assume that the events in Iraq right now are the most real thing in the world. It seems like the fighting itself is the real thing going on. So what did it mean to you to think of the US and the UK as the 'real world' while you were there?
DE: Um... There"s just nothing in American, or British, or developed, or first world, or Northern, or whatever you want to call it, Western society, that approximates what you"re seeing in Iraq right now. Even the most awful things that are happening in Detroit, and the economic segregation in the US, and the racism and oppression of a great number of people, cannot really compare to the outright brutality of what"s being done in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, and other parts of the world. Like it or not, we generally enjoy a higher standard of living than anyone else, even--not in every case--but most cases, down to even citizens we don"t recognize, still enjoy a slightly higher living standard than a lot of people. And a lot of what I was writing was being read by people in this part of the world. This does, in a way, become the real world, in the sense that a lot of decisions that are made in this part of the world, the 'real world,' are the ones that affect what happens in the rest of the world. You know, I guess that became my construct, rather than East and West, which is a construct I don"t particularly like, but you need some construct to try to explain the difference or disparity. So, in a way that was probably me trying to put it in terms that I thought other people could understand and resonate with.
TMD: Also, on this side of the war, we"ve seen some strange manipulation of the press. There was a San Francisco man who distributed a fake video of his own beheading on the KaZaa internet network, and this was picked up by Al Jazeera and the AP Press and reported as an actual beheading in Iraq. There is so much news that bombards us everyday, it might be hard to keep track of all these stories behind stories. So some people might be asking, just what is real about this war, and what isn"t?
DE: Read the Nation. Read Mother Jones. Read magazines, not necessarily newspapers, on any side of the fence. Read pieces that are going to be better researched. Read the Wall Street Journal as opposed to the New York Times. At least they"re checking facts much closer. Even if I don"t always agree with their political stance, at least they"re willing to go out and do real reporting. James... Reuters and Agence-France Press reported that James had been shot on both legs. Reported it unequivocally, unsourced, but reported that he had been shot in both legs. And a few minutes later we saw him on Al Jazeera in the video that his kidnappers had made, and we were like 'Well he looks like he"s standing on his own pretty well. It sure doesn"t look like he got shot. He looks like he got beat, but you know, he"s standing.' And so that"s one example that"s been exposed, is people misreporting this beheading.
But there"s also a disgusting amount of unreporting. We knew about the Abu Ghraib torture eight months before it hit major American media sources. We'd collected widely corroborated testimony from all parts of the country, we'd seen evidence of torture, we'd seen evidence of electrocution, we'd seen evidence of beatings, we heard the stories of people forced to stand naked, rape each other, all this bull****. And it didn't make headlines until there was actual porn to go with it. We call it 'No one believes Iraqis.' No one would listen to it, you know. People would give their names, their professions, their information, and say 'This is what happened to me, tell this story.' And no one would listen. So, along with misreporting goes an even greater amount of unreporting. And it does, I think, eventually become up to the consumer to filter what they consume. And we need to do education on what are viable news sources. AP, New York Times, even the Washington Post, people who are dealing with a daily 12 or 24 hour news cycle are not going to give stories that happened there or here, or anywhere, the reporting that they deserve. So that gives you a greater problem with the American and worldwide media, and these newsfeeds and satellite channels. Read magazines. Read newspapers that take the time.
TMD: I think that"s all I have for you. Now that you"re back in the US, have you made plans to go back to Baghdad or to start any new projects like the Baghdad Bulletin?
DE: Yeah, we"re talking to people. We even talked about resuscitating the magazine, but based on the situation, and based on the level of mistrust for foreigners in Iraq, which is for a lot of reasons. There are a lot of undercover CIA agents running around, so foreign reporters are generally distrusted, not without good reason. So I will definitely go back. I haven"t figured out exactly in what capacity yet. But at the very least, there are people I"m going to go visit and say hello to. I have a lot of good friends there.
TMD: Well, keep in touch with the Daily.
DE: Yeah, definitely.
TMD: Ok, that"s all. Thanks, man.
DE: No worries. Thank you.
10-28-04, 09:53 AM
November 01, 2004
Carrier surges without Marine squadron
Deployment change leaves ‘Red Devils’ behind – for now
By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
SAN DIEGO — For three months this summer, the “Red Devils” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 trained for a deployment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln that was planned for early next year.
But in September, the Navy ordered the Lincoln to leave much sooner — in mid-October instead of next spring — on a “surge” deployment.
And when the new orders came down, the squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar couldn’t get ready in time.
So when the Lincoln left Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado and headed west Oct. 19, its flight deck took on F/A-18 Hornet jets from an East Coast-based Navy squadron in place of the Marines.
The ultimate decision to pull the Red Devils from the float came from Naval Air Forces and Marine Corps headquarters, Naval Air Forces officials said.
For VMFA-232, the decision came down to whether the squadron could be ready for the early deployment — and time wasn’t on their side.
The squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Douglas S. Kurth, said he weighed the risks and the missions ahead, and recommended a month ago that “it’s not smart for us to deploy in an earlier emergency surge on a carrier, because of the experience level onboard the carrier specifically, that I had in the squadron.”
“We are fully capable and still remain capable of deploying anywhere in an expeditionary environment,” Kurth added. But “a carrier is a unique operating environment.”
At the time, Kurth said, he had only three pilots with carrier experience and eight enlisted Marines who have worked on carrier flight decks.
Kurth notified his boss, Col. Earl S. Wederbrook, commander of Marine Aircraft Group 11 at Miramar. Wederbrook said that while VMFA-232 was ready to deploy, “they weren’t necessarily ready to deploy on a carrier just yet.”
“There was no way we could get them ready for a carrier deployment,” he added.
The Red Devils hadn’t deployed on a carrier, Wederbrook noted, and two experienced squadrons in the group were unavailable to replace them.
Lincoln’s schedule change is part of the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan, designed to more quickly deploy naval forces on short notice. The Lincoln is heading to the western Pacific while the Japan-based carrier Kitty Hawk undergoes shipyard maintenance.
Instead of deploying with the Lincoln, VMFA-232 is expected to deploy with the carrier Nimitz early next year.
In 2003, the Red Devils flew 1,150 hours and dropped 325 tons of ordnance in 540 combat missions over Iraq during a deployment to Kuwait for operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom.
The “Marauders” of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 82, based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., will replace the Red Devils in the Lincoln’s air wing, Carrier Air Wing 2.
Under a Navy plan to integrate Navy and Marine Corps tactical aviation assets, 10 active-duty Marine Hornet squadrons, instead of four, will be added to the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings, and three Navy squadrons will join in the Corps’ unit rotations to support naval forces in Japan. One Hornet squadron each from the Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve were deactivated as part of the integration.
And sometime next year, the first Marine Corps officer will lead a carrier air wing. Col. Douglas P. Yurovich is slated to take command of Carrier Air Wing 9 in 2005.
10-28-04, 10:18 AM
Pentagon Officials: Too Early to Say If Units Will Extend in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2004 -- It is too early to say if units currently deployed to Iraq may be extended in their tours of duty, Pentagon officials said today.
In September, Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate he believed he would need 160,000 trained forces to provide security for the January election, which will choose delegates to write the Iraqi constitution. There are now 138,000 American troops in the country, with 155,000 in the region.
Officials said U.S. forces are flexible and remain poised to do what needs to be done. "It would be inappropriate to speculate on the process," said a Pentagon spokesman. "There is ongoing planning related to troops levels and security during the election period."
Officials stressed that this is contingency planning. "Sometimes you execute these contingency plans, sometimes you don't," said the spokesman.
One way officials might increase forces in Iraq is to extend the tours of units in country and speed up deployment of those in the States.
Officials still hope that countries will volunteer to provide security for U.N. voting officials and other international officials who would help run the election. Multinational forces could also help protect polling places.
Officials hope that Iraqi security forces can also provide more protection.
U.S. Central Command increased the number of American forces in the run-up to the Afghan elections Oct. 9.
10-28-04, 11:00 AM
Video Shows Polish Woman Hostage in Iraq
By RAWYA RAGEH, Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi extremists in videotape aired Thursday by Al-Jazeera television showed what they said was a Polish woman hostage held in Iraq (news - web sites) and demanded that Poland remove all its troops from Iraq.
The group, which called itself the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Fundamentalist Brigades, said the woman, who was not identified, works with U.S. troops in Iraq. They also demanded the release of all Iraqi female prisoners.
Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman said the woman was a longtime Iraq resident with Iraqi citizenship and was believed to have been abducted Wednesday night from her home in Baghdad. Abdul Rahman did not release her name.
A middle-aged woman with gray hair and dressed in a pink polka-dotted blouse sat in front of two masked gunmen, one of whom was pointing a pistol at her head. Her voice was not audible on the tape.
Al-Jazeera said the woman called on Polish troops to leave the country and for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to release all female detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison. The announcer said she had been "working in Iraq for a long time."
In Warsaw, a Polish Defense Ministry official said she apparently did not belong to any of the Polish military units. Polish television TVN24 reported that all Polish journalists in Iraq have been accounted for.
Ahmed al-Sheikh, Al-Jazeera's editor-in-chief, said the kidnappers did not mention a specific threat on the tape nor did they give a deadline for their demands to be met. He would not say when or how the station obtained the tape.
Poland commands some 6,000 troops from 15 nations — including some 2,400 from Poland — in the Babil, Karbala and Wasit provinces.
The armed group had also claimed responsibility in the September kidnapping of 10 Turkish hostages, who were released this month.
Late Wednesday, Al-Jazeera aired a video showing British aid worker Margaret Hassan, who again pleaded with Britain to withdraw its forces from Iraq even as some 800 British troops began deploying toward the Baghdad area. They were expected to relieve U.S. troops in the capital who are being preparing for a major assault on insurgent areas west and north of the capital.
Hassan, 59, who ran CARE International's operations in Iraq, has been the most high-profile of foreign hostages abducted in Iraq. No group has claimed responsibility in her abduction.
She also asked for the release of female Iraqi detainees and the closure of CARE's operations in Iraq.
A day earlier, a militant Web site ran a claim by the al-Qaida-linked group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi vowing to kill a 24-year-old Japanese hostage within 48 hours unless Japan withdrew its 500 troops from the country.
Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi swiftly refused the demand, saying he wouldn't give in to terrorists.
10-28-04, 12:09 PM
Home, with tales to tell
Charlotte Observer Staff Writer
FORT STEWART, Ga. - The stories poured out of them Wednesday, their first full day on U.S. soil after a 258-day deployment running the supply lines in Iraq, and none was more arresting than the one told by First Sgt. Johnny Cook of Concord.
"Go ahead and call me crazy, they all do," said Cook, one of four Vietnam veterans in the 812th Transportation Battalion, as he described the assault his troops faced on Easter day while escorting 50 trucks south of Baghdad when they turned onto an empty street, no kids playing, no people walking.
"I had a bad feeling and was praying to God to protect the trucks. And all of a sudden I saw the wings of angels spread out over the trucks.
"And then they hit us."
A day after the unit returned to hugs and squeals from relatives, Cook told the tale of the day mortar fire began raining down on the convoy, followed by sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Cook was in the gun turret of a Humvee and began returning fire with a machine gun.
Three trucks were burning. Troops checked each one to make sure no one was trapped, then moved on, only to be hit again.
A tire on one Humvee was hit and went flat. Cook's team and another blasted at the insurgents while the tire was hastily changed.
When the Humvee could move, the team went back to the site of the original attack to retrieve a soldier who had been stranded, then sped up the highway to rejoin the convoy near a Marine outpost. Snipers opened fire from buildings and the sparse brush. Two more trucks were soon burning.
U.S. soldiers zeroed in with grenade launchers on muzzle flashes coming from a filling station. Soon the gas station was exploding.
"It was the most perfect ambush I've ever seen," said Cook, who had never been out of his hometown of Kannapolis when he joined the Marines at age 17 and has been in and out of the military his whole adult life.
"The only thing that kept us alive was the good Lord and the fact they couldn't shoot."
The convoy took refuge at the Marine base and a Marine patrol went out to survey the carnage. They counted 40 dead insurgents. Five Americans were wounded.
From the Charlotte-based unit, Sgt. Ralph Blue got an Army Commendation Medal with valor. Recommended for a Bronze Star with valor were Cook, Sgt. Adrian Moree, Sgt. Frank Ford and Sgt. Thomas Owens.
The 812th, the subject of a series of Observer articles in the spring on life in the war zone, was sent to a border outpost in Kuwait to administer the crucial supply lines feeding beans and bullets to more than 120,000 soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom.About 30 percent of the convoys came under some kind of hostile action, from booby-trap bombs hidden in roadsides to direct assaults by mortar and sniper fire, said Capt. Mary Martinez of Tega Cay.
"April was a terrible month in the field, especially in Baghdad," said Blue, who helped defend a base at Baghdad International Airport from an assault.
The teams protecting the convoys endured summer heat in their armored Humvee gun trucks that reached 164 degrees, soldiers guzzling Gatorade by the bottle to keep pace with the perspiration pouring off them.
The unit is demobilizing at Fort Stewart, a sprawling base in the Georgia pinelands. Returning equipment, taking physicals and filling out paperwork is the order of the day since arriving here late Tuesday after a 17-hour flight.
The simple things appeal to Sgt. Courtney Freiberg of Charlotte. "Green grass, good food and real bathrooms," she said Wednesday.
Master Sgt. Charles Winley cited the deeper significance. "We had nobody killed, nobody seriously hurt. It was a blessed year."
A ceremony for the 812th Transportation Battalion is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Charlotte Army Reserve Center, 1330 Westover St. It is open to the public.
10-28-04, 12:47 PM
Marines Make Condolence Payments to Najaf Citizens
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DUKE, Iraq, Oct. 26, 2004 -- Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit distributed more than $570,000 in condolence and collateral-damage-repair payments on Oct. 25 to show good will to Iraqis caught in the crossfire during fighting in Najaf in August 2003, officials with Multinational Force Iraq announced.
Payments began on Sept. 30 and have resulted in a total of $1.9 million disbursed to more than 2,660 Najaf residents. Officials assured that payments will continue as long as needed to meet each valid case.
Condolence payments, known as "solatia," are paid to express sympathy to those injured or who lost a family member during the fighting. Collateral-damage- repair payments are intended for Iraqis who experienced damage to their homes, businesses or other property. Subsequently, 11th MEU Marines continue to spend millions of dollars to contract local Iraqi businessmen and workers to repair public infrastructure damaged during the fighting.
"Now that Najaf is secure, we're working around the clock to get this city up and running again," said Col. Anthony M. Haslam, the unit's commanding officer. "These payments are one way we are showing goodwill and building trust with the locals."
(From a Multinational Force Iraq press release.)
10-28-04, 01:35 PM
IAEA Says It Warned U.S. About Explosives
By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria - The U.N. nuclear agency said Thursday it warned the United States about the vulnerability of explosives stored at Iraq (news - web sites)'s Al-Qaqaa military installation after another facility — Iraq's main nuclear complex — was looted in April 2003.
Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press that U.S. officials were cautioned directly about what was stored at Al-Qaqaa, the main high explosives facility in Iraq.
Some 377 tons of high explosives — HMX and RDX and PETN — are now missing from the facility, and questions have arisen about what the United States knew about Al-Qaqaa and what it did to secure the site.
Iraqi officials say the materials were taken amid looting sometime after the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces on April 9, 2003, though the Pentagon (news - web sites) is suggesting the ordnance could have been moved by Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime before the United States invaded on March 20, 2003.
Fleming did not say which officials were notified or exactly when, but she said the IAEA — which had put storage bunkers at the site under seal just before the war — alerted the United States after the Tuwaitha nuclear complex was looted.
"After we heard reports of looting at the Tuwaitha site in April 2003, the agency's chief Iraq inspectors alerted American officials that we were concerned about the security of the high explosives stored at Al-Qaqaa," she told the AP.
"It is also important to note that this was the main high explosives storage facility in Iraq, and it was well-known through IAEA reports to the Security Council," Fleming said.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei informed the United Nations (news - web sites) in February 2003, and again in April of that year, that he was concerned about HMX explosives, which were stored at Al-Qaqaa.
The explosives' disappearance has become a flashpoint in the final week of the U.S. presidential campaign, with Democratic nominee John Kerry (news - web sites) accusing the Bush administration of ignoring the threat.
IAEA inspectors last confirmed that the agency's seals on the explosives were in place and intact in early to mid-March 2003, days before the invasion began March 20.
The IAEA sought Thursday to clarify reports that the amount of missing explosives may have been far less than what the Iraqis said in an Oct. 10 report to the nuclear agency.
ABC News, citing IAEA inspection documents, reported Wednesday night that the Iraqis had declared 141 tons of RDX explosives at Al-Qaqaa in July 2002, but that the site held only three tons when it was checked in January 2003.
The network said that could suggest that 138 tons were removed from the facility long before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
But Fleming said most of the RDX — about 125 tons — was kept at Al-Mahaweel, a storage site under Al-Qaqaa's jurisdiction located outside the main Al-Qaqaa site. She also said about 10 tons already had been reported by Iraq as having been used for non-prohibited purposes between July 2002 and January 2003.
"IAEA inspectors visited Al-Mahaweel on Jan. 15, 2003, and verified the RDX inventory by weighing sampling," Fleming said. She said the RDX at Al-Mahaweel was not under seal but was subject to IAEA monitoring.
"IAEA inspectors were in the process of verifying this statement ... and would have proceeded later had they stayed in Iraq," Fleming said. The nuclear agency's inspectors pulled out of Iraq just before the U.S.-led invasion and have not been allowed to return for general inspections despite ElBaradei's requests that they be allowed to finish their work.
The agency became involved at Al-Qaqaa because of the presence of 214 tons of HMX, which — like RDX — is a key component in plastic explosives but also can be used as an ignitor on a nuclear weapon. Fleming said it was the HMX that was the agency's main focus.
ABC said the inspection report noted that the seals at Al-Qaqaa may have been useless because the storage bunkers had ventilation slats on the sides that could have been removed to give looters access to the explosives.
But Fleming said the inspectors had also checked the ventilation slats to ensure they had not been tampered with, and that they concluded "the confinement was sufficient" as long as the site was regularly checked. They could no longer do that once they pulled out just before the invasion.
IAEA inspectors last saw the explosives in January 2003 when they took an inventory and placed fresh seals on the bunkers. Inspectors visited the site again in March 2003, but didn't view the explosives because the seals were not broken, she said.
Agency inspectors who have returned twice to Iraq since the war focused only on Tuwaitha, a sprawling nuclear complex 12 miles south of Baghdad.
In June 2003, inspectors investigated reports of widespread looting of storage rooms at Tuwaitha, and they returned in August 2003 to take inventory of several tons of natural uranium that had been stored there. They have not been allowed back to Al-Qaqaa.
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10-28-04, 03:06 PM
Household Survey Sees 100,000 Iraqi Deaths
By EMMA ROSS, AP Medical Writer
LONDON - A survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in the 18 months after the U.S. invasion than would be expected based on the death rate before the war.
There is no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the conflict began, but some non-governmental estimates range from 10,000 to 30,000. As of Wednesday, 1,081 U.S. servicemen had been killed, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
The scientists who wrote the report concede that the data they based their projections on were of "limited precision," because the quality of the information depends on the accuracy of the household interviews used for the study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.
Designed and conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, the study is being published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet medical journal.
The survey indicated violence accounted for most of the extra deaths seen since the invasion, and air strikes from coalition forces caused most of the violent deaths, the researchers wrote in the British-based journal.
"Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children," they said.
The report was released just days before the U.S. presidential election, and the lead researcher said he wanted it that way. The Lancet routinely publishes papers on the Web before they appear in print, particularly if it considers the findings of urgent public health interest.
Those reports then appear later in the print issue of the journal. The journal's spokesmen said they were uncertain which print issue the Iraqi report would appear in and said it was too late to make Friday's issue, and possibly too late for the Nov. 5 edition.
Les Roberts, the lead researcher from Johns Hopkins, said the article's timing was up to him.
"I emailed it in on Sept. 30 under the condition that it came out before the election," Roberts told The Asocciated Press. "My motive in doing that was not to skew the election. My motive was that if this came out during the campaign, both candidates would be forced to pledge to protect civilian lives in Iraq (news - web sites).
"I was opposed to the war and I still think that the war was a bad idea, but I think that our science has transcended our perspectives," Roberts said. "As an American, I am really, really sorry to be reporting this."
Richard Peto, an expert on study methods who was not involved with the research, said the approach the scientists took is a reasonable one to investigate the Iraq death toll.
However, it's possible that they may have zoned in on hotspots that might not be representative of the death toll across Iraq, said Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University in England.
To conduct the survey, investigators visited 33 neighborhoods spread evenly across the country in September, randomly selecting clusters of 30 households to sample. Of the 988 households visited, 808, consisting of 7,868 people, agreed to participate in the survey. At each one they asked how many people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since January 2002.
The scientists then compared death rates in the 15 months before the invasion with those that occurred during the 18 months after the attack and adjusted those numbers to account for the different time periods.
Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
The investigators worked in teams of three. Five of the six Iraqi interviewers were doctors and all six were fluent in English and Arabic.
In the households reporting deaths, the person who died had to be living there at the time of the death and for more than two months before to be counted. In an attempt at firmer confirmation, the interviewers asked for death certificates in 78 households and were provided them 63 times.
There were 46 deaths in the surveyed households before the war. After the invasion, there were 142 deaths. That is an increase from 5 deaths per 1,000 people per year to 12.3 per 1,000 people per year — more than double.
However, more than a third of the post-invasion deaths were reported in one cluster of households in the city Falluja, where fighting has been most intense recently. Because the fighting was so severe there, the numbers from that location may have exaggerated the overall picture.
When the researchers recalculated the effect of the war without the statistics from Falluja, the deaths end up at 7.9 per 1,000 people per year — still 1.5 times higher than before the war.
Even with Falluja factored out, the survey "indicates that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is more likely than not about 100,000 people, and may be much higher," the report said.
The most common causes of death before the invasion of Iraq were heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. However, after the invasion, violence was recorded as the primary cause of death and was mainly attributed to coalition forces — with about 95 percent of those deaths caused by bombs or fire from helicopter gunships.
Violent deaths — defined as those brought about by the intentional act of others — were reported in 15 of the 33 clusters. The chances of a violent death were 58 times higher after the invasion than before it, the researchers said.
Twelve of the 73 violent deaths were not attributed to coalition forces. The researchers said 28 children were killed by coalition forces in the survey households. Infant mortality rose from 29 deaths per 1,000 live births before the war to 57 deaths per 1,000 afterward.
The researchers estimated the nationwide death toll due to the conflict by multiplying the difference between the two death rates by the estimated population of Iraq — 24.4 million at the start of the war. The result was then multiplied by 18 months, the average period between the invasion and the survey interviews.
"We estimate that there were 98,000 extra deaths during the postwar period in the 97 percent of Iraq represented by all the clusters except Falluja," the researchers said in the journal.
"This isn't about individual soldiers doing bad things. This appears to be a problem with the approach to occupation in Iraq," Roberts said.
The researchers called for further confirmation by an independent body such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the World Health Organization (news - web sites).
The study was funded by the Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins University and by the Small Arms Survey in Geneva, Switzerland, a research project based at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
10-28-04, 05:34 PM
Postal Service Suggests Deadlines for Holiday Mailing
The U.S. Postal Service has released the 2004 holiday recommended mailing dates for those wanting to send packages to or from the United States or forces in the Middle East. Different dates have been set for the various mailing options and mail destined for military members with deployed units, which have APO addresses starting with 093. There is a 70-pound limit for incoming or outgoing APO/FPO mail. For mail going to APO and FPO addresses:
Packages sent parcel post, the recommended deadline to send is Nov. 13;
Space-available mail - Nov. 27; Parcel airlift - Dec. 4;
Priority mail, first-class cards and letters - Dec. 11; for APO addresses beginning with 093 - Dec. 6.
Express mail - Dec. 20. Local post offices can determine which APO/FPO addresses can receive express mail, but Navy ships do not have express mail services.
For mail from APO and FPO addresses:
Space-available - Nov. 20.
Parcel airlift - Dec. 4.
Priority mail, first-class cards and letters - Dec. 11.
Express mail - Dec. 18. Only certain base post offices can send express mail.
The USPS also recommends that all mail carry the servicemember's full name, with or without rank, military organization or unit, and full APO or FPO address, but should not indicate the deployed country's name in any part of the address.
10-28-04, 08:15 PM
Two Soldiers Killed in Separate Attacks in Iraq
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2004 -- A rocket-propelled-grenade attack on a combat patrol south of Balad, Iraq, killed a 1st Infantry Division soldier at about today, Multinational Force Iraq officials said.
Earlier today, one Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed and two others were wounded when insurgents attacked their patrol with a suspected car bomb in southern Baghdad.
The three task force soldiers were medically evacuated to a military medical- treatment facility where one died of wounds received in the blast, officials said. The two others received minor wounds.
The names of both soldiers killed today are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
One, possibly two, Iraqi civilians were also killed in the blast, officials said. Explosive ordnance experts arriving on scene after the blast were still trying to determine what caused the explosion.
In Mosul on Oct. 27, officials said a citizen prevented a car-bomb attack after the individual informed multinational forces of a suspected explosive device in the neighborhood of Al Wahda.
Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division -- a Stryker Brigade Combat Team -- responded and confirmed the car had been rigged with explosives. An explosive ordnance disposal team destroyed the device.
"The citizen's ability to identify the car bomb and courageously inform the appropriate authorities potentially saved the lives of Iraqi security forces, multinational forces and Iraqi citizens," a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman said in a statement.
Also on Oct. 27, anti-Iraqi forces attacked a multinational force checkpoint near As Suwayrah on the road from Al Kut to Baghdad with mortars.
The insurgents fired 10 mortar grenades at the checkpoint, but when multinational force personnel returned fire, the attack ceased, according to officials. There were no injuries to multinational or Iraqi security forces and no damage to equipment or structures in this incident.
(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq news releases.)