War News for Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Bring ‘em on: Nineteen US soldiers and seven contractors killed, at least 60 wounded in attack on Camp Marez
southwest of Mosul.
: For days all over this barren base, red ribbons, artificial Christmas trees and cutouts of smiling Santas have sprouted like tiny oases among the dust-covered Humvees and drab concrete bomb shelters.
Now, as soldiers wait anxiously for the Internet servers to go back on so they can assure loved ones they're sound if not safe, Christmas looms more as a hurdle than a holiday.
With one cruel blow, the insurgents who prowl outside the perimeter of this godforsaken place hijacked a rare chance for true celebration and set it on a collision course with yet another round of tearful eulogies, another set of gut-wrenching final roll calls.
: What the images of Phantom Fury did not convey is that this assault was the largest concentration of heavy armor in one place, since the fall of Berlin. This was the first time since World War II that "an American armored task force" has been turned "loose in a city with no restrictions".
The assault has left as many as 10,000 civilian dead--perhaps much much more . The Red Cross/Red Crescent estimate was upwards of 6000 as of November 25th. Till date no formal Red Cross/Red Crescent operation has been allowed in the city.
Many thanks to alert reader ClonedPoster for finding this story.
: The dining hall, a large tent which was shielded by towering concrete walls but had no protected roof, should have been replaced by a fortified building in time for Christmas.
The BBC's James Reynolds, who was embedded with US troops at the base last month, says the dining hall has always been seen as vulnerable. A US army colonel had told him he feared what would happen if insurgents managed to fire rockets into it.
: For example, the military unit I was with, I mean, the operation in Fallujah involved largely Marines, but also some army elements. I was with one of those elements. The way they proceeded through the city, given that there was booby-traps, improvised explosive devices, riddling the streets everywhere. Entire houses were rigged to blow. The way they proceeded was what they call “Reconnaissance by Fire.” If you’re going to go down a street first you scour it for any potential danger. How do you do that? You do it with a 25mm cannon on an armoured Bradley fighting vehicle. Or you do it with one 20mm tank round. Just blow up everything that looks vaguely suspicious. Then if someone shoots at you from a building, or there’s an explosion near a vehicle, don’t mess with it. Don’t go into the building looking for the guy… just level the building. And then go through the rubble afterwards.
This is from an interview with Michael Ware, the Baghdad Bureau Chief for Time Magazine. It’s an eye opener. Thanks to alert reader Zig for the catch.
: As of yesterday, it was unclear what caused the mess-tent explosion.
Mortar and rocket attacks, though frequent, are notoriously inaccurate.
They also are hard to stop, since they often are launched by insurgents who never stay in one place for long and operate in the thick of civilian populations, according to soldiers who have served at the base.
Another possibility is that an explosive device was somehow set off inside the base, which also is used by Iraqi troops.
Throughout the past year, the reliability of Iraqi forces has been a frequent source of concern for U.S. commanders in the Mosul area.
: A lot of the time the houses were severely damaged in that process because one of the cardinal rules of the American occupation of Iraq is called “force protection”. The whole idea is that you limit the number of casualties that you take and the number of casualties that you make is immaterial.
I think what you’ll find the assault on Fallujah did was broaden the insurrection, not necessarily in terms of getting people who lived in other places to become more angry about the occupation, I don’t think that’s possible at the moment - there’s a level of disagreement with the occupation that cannot be improved upon - but what it did was disperse a lot of people who were actively involved in the insurgency to other places and I think that as we’ve seen recently the number of incidents as we progress towards the elections of which of course the assault on Fallujah was the start of the pacification process for those elections. What has happened is that the number of incidents has risen dramatically as a result of displacing the insurgents from Fallujah into other parts of the country as far north as Mosul, which is some 4 hours drive away.
Another excellent interview with an embedded reporter. Thanks to alert reader sonofhades for finding it.
: A pall seemed to descend, like the gray, drizzling rain, over this Army post, home to 6,700 soldiers deployed to Iraq, as the wait began yesterday to identify those killed and wounded in the most deadly attack of the war for U.S. troops.
"It doesn't hurt any more or less than any other time of the year," Lt. Col. Bill Costello, the post's spokesman, said yesterday of the Christmastime attack on a tent full of troops and civilian workers eating lunch in Mosul, which is temporary home to thousands of Fort Lewis soldiers.
And a Merry Christmas to you, Lt. Col. Bill Costello, and all those whom you love.
Somewhere in the Green Zone
: On the day of a deadly attack against US troops, Iraq’s finance minister said he saw signs of improvement in his country’s security.
Adil Abdel-Mahdi, a leading Shiite politician, said the provisional Iraqi government was trying to improve security for foreign investors and workers.
He said conditions are ”much better than before” as a result of the US-led mission last month to drive insurgents out of the Sunni-dominated city of Fallujah.
: Just before the November election, the British medical journal The Lancet released the results of an on-the-ground survey that produced an extremely rough estimate of as many as 100,000 Iraqis killed since the beginning of the Iraq war, mostly by U.S. military action. In the U.S. press, it was a two- or three-day story, much of that coverage devoted to skepticism about the researchers' methodology. In the Texas press, the estimate didn't merit even that much coverage – no need to debunk the study if you avoid all mention of it. Nothing much has changed since Nov. 3 – the matter of Iraqi deaths, except insofar as they can be directly blamed on insurgents, is presumed to be of little U.S. public interest.
: Lack of security and fear of kidnapping make Iraqi women prisoners in their own homes. They witness the looting of their country by Halliburton, Bechtel, US NGOs, missionaries, mercenaries and local subcontractors, while they are denied clean water and electricity. In the land of oil, they have to queue five hours a day to get kerosene or petrol. Acute malnutrition has doubled among children. Unemployment at 70% is exacerbating poverty, prostitution, backstreet abortion and honour killing. Corruption and nepotism are rampant in the interim government. Al-Naqib, minister of interior admitted that he had appointed 49 of his relatives to high-ranking jobs, but only because they were qualified.
Tony Blair, acknowledged yesterday in Baghdad that violence would continue both before and after the January 30 elections, but added: "On the other hand we will have a very clear expression of democratic will." Does he not know that "democracy" is what Iraqi women use nowadays to frighten their naughty children, by shouting: "Quiet, or I'll call democracy."
American Moral Leadership
: The FBI memos were made public by the ACLU on Monday. One heavily redacted June 25 FBI memo, titled "URGENT REPORT" to the FBI director, provided details from someone "who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees" in Iraq.
"He described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations," the document stated. The memo also mentioned "cover-up of these abuses."
More horror stories
: In July, Army criminal investigators were reviewing "the alleged rape of a juvenile male detainee at Abu Ghraib prison." It was not clear whether the incident was related to a previous report of a boy who was raped by a contractor.
Other agents gave more details of alleged abuses.
In a June instance, an agent from the Washington field office reported that an Abu Ghraib detainee complained he was cuffed and placed into an uncomfortable physical position that the military called "the Scorpion" hold. Then, the prisoner told the FBI, he was doused with cold water, dropped onto barbed wire, dragged by his feet and punched in the stomach.
: A shadowy Iraqi group has released two French news reporters, who have spent almost four months in captivity.
France reacted with joy Tuesday at the news that reporters Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot had finally been released.
A new strategy
: An activist group is hoping to get a resolution on Town Meeting Day ballots that calls on the state to recall Vermont National Guard troops from Iraq.
The premise of the resolution is that the war in Iraq is unjustified and illegal. It asks the state to pursue two avenues to recall Vermont Guard troops already deployed.
It calls for Vermont's congressional delegation to urge congress to return power over the National Guard to the individual states the Guard was designed to protect.
It also asks the Legislature to form a committee to investigate how the Guard's deployment has affected the state's readiness for emergencies at home.
But the primary intent of the resolution is to foster dialogue and expose what organizers say is an illegal war.
: The Sabbath gasbags, as The Nation's Calvin Trillin calls our Sunday TV news commentators, distinguished themselves yet again. They're trying to gang up on Donald Rumsfeld on the theory that the entire Iraq war would have worked out just dandy if it hadn't been for Rumsfeld's mistakes.
For those now waxing indignant about Rumsfeld and the whole situation concerning armor, I remind you that when "60 Minutes" carried exactly this story in October, as did other news outlets, the right wing promptly pounced on it as further evidence of supposed liberal bias in the media.
: With a few keystrokes, you can print out the Pentagon's list of military deaths in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like the crosses in Flanders fields, the names stretch out row on row, 16 pages of tiny type, from Abad, Roberto, to Zurheide, Robert Paul Jr.
Nowhere in the rows upon rows of names is there anyone with the title "ambassador" or "general" or "director." And yet last week, President George W. Bush chose to honor Ambassador Paul Bremer, retired Gen. Tommy Franks, and former CIA Director George Tenet each with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their contributions to the Iraq war effort.
So desperate is the president to paint Iraq as a success - a "catastrophic success," as he puts it - that he shamelessly debases not only words, not only the Medal of Freedom, but also the final sacrifice made by everyone on the list from Abad to Zurheide.
Those guys all got medals, too. Posthumously. No $4 million book deals for them. No $25,000 speaking fees. Their families got death benefits worth about $12,000. Plus a free flag, neatly folded. And the thanks of a grateful nation whose president has now given its highest civilian honor to Bremer, Tenet and Franks.
: The fact that terrorists can strike with devastating effect on the mess tent of an American military base at lunchtime is a sign of just how bad things are in parts of Iraq. If U.S. forces, who were supposed to have broken the back of the resistance in the battle of Fallujah, cannot secure their own quarters, how can they promise Iraqis security for 9,000 polling places in next month's election?
The interim Iraqi government, held in place by the U.S. military, says the insurgents are determined to plunge the country into civil war before the Jan. 30 elections. Leaders of the decidedly undemocratic Arab world must be secretly pleased at the bad model on display in Iraq, where the prospect for meaningful voting in less than six weeks seems fainter with each new atrocity. A civil war may not happen, but, at this grim point, democracy doesn't seem like much of a bet, either.
Local story: Baton Rouge, LA
, Marine killed in Al Anbar province
Local story: Georgia
Marine killed in Fallujah
Local story: Two South Carolina
National Guardsmen killed in helicopter crash in Mosul
Local story: League City, TX
, soldier killed in accident in Kuwait while beginning his third (involuntary) tour in Iraq