Tuesday, September 13, 2005

War News for Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bring ‘em on: Two mortar rounds exploded within the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, no casualties reported. US military announces the capture of over 400 “suspected rebels” in Tal Afar. Two Sunni clerics shot and killed by gunmen in Baquba. Two truck drivers ambushed and killed in Baghdad. Body of a former judge found in Sadr City with a note indicating he was killed for being a supporter of Saddam Hussein. Two civilians killed and six injured in car bombing in Hilla. Two insurgents killed by US soldiers while trying to plant a roadside bomb in Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Three Iraqis killed and 11 wounded in booby-trapped car explosion in Hilla (This is likely an update to the car bombing incident in the post above). Four missiles strike in Baghdad, including two in the Green Zone.

Bring ‘em on: At least one person killed and 17 wounded in a ‘huge’ car bomb explosion outside a popular restaurant in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood.

Bring ‘em on: Iraqi Major General in charge of police training gunned down in Baghdad. (Note: This is a different Iraqi Major General than the one who was reported by Friendly Fire in yesterday’s post as gunned down in Baghdad. These two assassinations indicate that for all the reported victories against the insurgents their intelligence capabilities haven’t been much degraded.) One US soldier killed, two wounded in roadside bombing near Samarra. Five Iraqi soldiers killed and three wounded in Tal Afar fighting as of Sunday.

Bring ‘em on: US and Iraqi government forces open offensive in Haditha, four suspected insurgents killed and one captured. Four people, possibly Americans, killed in car bombing in Basra. Military sources claim 200 insurgents, seven Iraqi soldiers and six civilians were killed in the Tal Afar operation as of today.

Bring ‘em on: Member of the Diyala governing council wounded along with three of his bodyguards in assassination attempt.

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi police commando killed and three wounded in bomb blast in Tal Afar.

Bring ‘em on: No casualties other than the bomber reported in a suicide car bomb attack on an Iraqi army checkpoint on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Tal Afar

They saw it coming: Fighting eased Sunday, the second day of a U.S. and Iraqi sweep through the militant stronghold of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, as insurgents melted into the countryside, many escaping through a tunnel network dug under an ancient northern city.

Iraqi and U.S. military officials vowed to expand the offensive.

The 8,500-strong Iraqi-U.S. force continued house-to-house searches, and military leaders said the assault would push all along the Syrian frontier and in the Euphrates River valley.

Cities and towns along the fabled river are bastions of the insurgency, a collection of foreign fighters and disaffected Sunni Muslims, many of them Saddam Hussein loyalists.

About 5,000 Iraqi soldiers, backed by a 3,500-strong American armored force, reported 156 insurgents killed and 246 captured. The force discovered a big bomb factory, 18 weapons caches and the tunnel network in the ancient Sarai neighborhood of Tal Afar, 60 miles east of the Syrian border.

``The terrorists had seen it coming (and prepared) tunnel complexes to be used as escape routes,'' Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said in Baghdad.

Long-term pattern: Guerrillas fled a US-Iraqi assault on a rebel stronghold near the Syrian border, US military officers said yesterday, following a long-term pattern by which insurgents avoid direct confrontation with US troops and concentrate in areas where they are thinly deployed.

"The enemy decided to bail out," Colonel H. R. McMasters, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying after his soldiers entered the Sarai neighbourhood of Tal Afar, where insurgents were thought to be holed up.

The military has said that US and Iraqi forces had captured 211 insurgents since surrounding the town on August 26 in preparation for the weekend's assault.

A Wise Man And A Fool

Perverse violence: With the security situation in Iraq slipping daily to a new and dreadful bottom, the risk of civil war is “serious,” says the archbishop of Baghdad.

Violence is engulfing Iraq as politicians wrestle with ethnic, religious and sectarian divisions magnified by a complex and highly contentious constitutional process, Latin rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman said in recent interview with Vatican Radio.

“We really live in a lawless country,” he said. “We are still in great chaos, but perhaps this word does not express the daily tragedy of the situation.

“The chaos is fueled, in fact, by violence, which I would not describe as blind, as it seems to be very well planned and, therefore, perverse,” he said.

"Duty to sacrifice": Talabani, on a visit to Washington, has played up the fact that Iraqi troops were leading the assault after a mass training program by the U.S. military to build up the Iraqi army. U.S. officials say over 190,000 Iraqi troops are now battle-ready.

He told the Washington Post in an interview published on Tuesday that Iraq was now ready to take over some duties performed by U.S. troops.

"We think that America has the full right to move some forces from Iraq to their country because I think we can replace them (with) our forces," Talabani said. "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be (withdrawn) by the end of this year."

A senior adviser to Talabani later said he had not intended to suggest a specific timeline for withdrawal.

But Talabani had earlier told CNN in Washington: "It's our duty to sacrifice for our people and for our country," in words designed to ease pressure on President George W. Bush, who faces increasing calls to withdraw U.S. troops.

Actually, though, I’ll bet Talabani’s right. I bet we see some substantial, if temporary, troop withdrawals in 2006 – right before the congressional elections.

Incompetence In High Places, Part 23,989,434

Fear of speculation: Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency have begun war-gaming scenarios for what might happen in Iraq if U.S. force levels were cut back or eliminated, say counterterrorism and defense sources. The officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive subject matter, declined to discuss specifics of the DIA analyses, which they indicate are in the preliminary stages. Some officials say that people in the intelligence community are leery about engaging in speculative exercises for fear of being accused by conservatives of undermining George W. Bush's administration policy. However, others say that this analysis could support staying the course in Iraq if a U.S. pullout would result in greater insurgent violence or a religious civil war.

This is just fucking great. Our intelligence organizations are so intimidated by the neocon lunatics set over them that they are afraid to honestly fulfill one of their most important functions: Assessing threats under a variety of ‘what if’ scenarios. The damage that George W. Bush has done to our essential national security organizations will take a generation to repair.

It’s a good thing we have magic soldier making fairy dust! We do...don't we?:

The AP reports today: “The National Guard is stretched so thin by simultaneous assignments in Iraq and the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast that leaders in statehouses and Congress say it is time to reconsider how the force is used. … The head of the National Guard Bureau said Friday the assignment of thousands of Guard troops from Mississippi and Louisiana to Iraq delayed those states’ initial hurricane response by about a day. “Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, the bureau’s chief.”

And the Washington Post reports that civilian and military leaders say the response could have been quicker had National Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi been in their home states rather than Iraq: “In Louisiana and Mississippi, civilian and military leaders said the response to the hurricane was delayed by the absence of the Mississippi National Guard’s 155th Infantry Brigade and Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade, each with thousands of troops in Iraq.”

But the administration recognizes this obvious problem and is thinking of policy solutions to address it, right? Wrong. Bush administration officials have gone on a public relations offensive over the last week to incredulously claim that our troops aren’t stretched thin. Here’s what Rice and Rumsfeld have said:

TAVIS SMILEY: “There are a lot of folk, and I know you’ve heard this, who believe and it’s been everywhere expressed that this sentiment that the money and other resources that we have been spending on Iraq put us in a situation where we didn’t have the resources available quickly enough to move into the Gulf Coast. Do you accept that?”

SECRETARY RICE: “No, it’s just not true. Frankly, it’s hogwash. And I’ll use that term very, very clearly. There are plenty of resources to deal with this. There are military resources to deal with it. There were National Guard resources to deal with it.”


KMOX RADIO: “Does that mean we’re stretched a little bit thin?”

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: “No. In fact the implication that we’re stretched thin is an inaccurate one and it ought to be knocked down hard.”

So once again, faced with an accountability moment, the Bush administration shucks responsibility and suggests that those who question them just don’t know what they’re talking about.

Hey, John, it was easier when the 'enemy' was a bunch of illiterate campesinos, wasn’t it: U.S. intelligence is struggling to expose elements of the insurgency in Iraq made up of former members of Saddam Hussein's regime, John Negroponte, the nation's intelligence chief, said in an interview Monday.

Joint U.S.-Iraqi military efforts have damaged the network of foreign insurgents led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, though Zarqawi himself remains at large, Negroponte said. Indigenous Iraqi insurgents, led by former members of Saddam's ruling Baath Party, have been tougher to track down.

The "former regime elements ... seem to have very good operational secrecy," Negroponte said in a wide-ranging interview with USA TODAY reporters. "And thus far it's not been that easy to make a dent in that part of the insurgency."

Though foreign fighters, mainly Sunni Muslim Arabs from Syria and Saudi Arabia, have grabbed headlines with suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Iraqis, Negroponte said Iraqis dominate the insurgency. Despite intense focus on Iraq, where 138,000 U.S. troops are deployed, U.S. intelligence has not been able to produce anything more than a "speculative" estimate of the insurgency's size, he said.

Based on everything he has seen, Negroponte said, the insurgency is neither gaining strength nor weakening appreciably. The insurgency's stubborn resistance to U.S. and Iraqi military efforts has complicated the development of a democracy.

Ha ha! I love it! John, if you’re killing thousands of the enemy and they aren’t “weakening appreciably”, what does that mean?

Iraq Comes To America

Profiteering: The Bush administration is importing many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq as it begins the largest and costliest rebuilding effort in U.S. history.

The first large-scale contracts related to Hurricane Katrina, as in Iraq, were awarded without competitive bidding, and using so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend.

Contracts for temporary housing have been awarded to politically connected companies like Fluor Corp. and Bechtel National Inc., a unit of Bechtel Group Inc., leading congressional Democrats to renew charges of cronyism they first leveled when the firms won lucrative work in Iraq.

Private armies: Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for its work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the U.S. occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."

Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences. Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as two weeks ago.

Accountable to who?: Well, as I was walking with Daniela Crespo through the streets of the French Quarter, we were talking to two New York City police officers when an unmarked vehicle pulled up, and there were three heavily armed men inside dressed in khaki outfits, and they asked the New York police officers, “Do you know where the Blackwaters guys are?” And my ears immediately perked up, because, of course, having covered Iraq for a long time, I know well who the Blackwater mercenaries are. And the New York police officer said, “Well, they're down the street that way. There are lots of them around here.” And then I said to the New York police officer, “Blackwater? You mean, like the guys in Iraq?” And he said, “Yeah. They're all over the place.”

And so, we tracked them down, found them down the street, and just approached the Blackwater mercenaries and began talking to them. Two of the guys that we talked to had served on the personal security details of L. Paul Bremer, the American pro-counsel in Iraq originally, the head of the occupation, as well as the U.S. ambassador -- former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte. One of the guys had just gotten back from Iraq two weeks ago. These are some of the most highly trained killers, professional killers in the world. And they had served in Iraq in a number of cities and in a number of capacities.

And one of them was wearing a golden badge, that identified itself as being Louisiana law enforcement, and in fact, one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana, and what's interesting is that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security have denied that they have hired any private security firms, saying that they have enough with government forces. Well, these Blackwater men that we spoke to said that they are actually on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and indeed with the governor of Louisiana. And they said that they're sleeping in camps organized by the Department of Homeland Security.

Extraordinary rendition: It was only a matter of time before the CIA caught up with Saad Iqbal Madni.

A Pakistani Islamist and, allegedly, a close associate of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, he turned up in Indonesia in November 2001, just as the Taliban regime was crumbling and members of al-Qaida were fleeing Afghanistan. Renting a room in a Jakarta boarding house, he told locals he had arrived to hand over an inheritance to his late father's second wife.

On January 9 2002, Iqbal was seized by Indonesian intelligence agents. Two days later, according to Indonesian officials, he was bundled aboard a Gulfstream V executive jet which had flown into a military airfield in the city. Then, without any extradition hearing or judicial process, he was flown to Cairo.

Iqbal, 24, had become the latest terrorism suspect to fall into a system known in US intelligence circles as "extraordinary rendition" - the apprehension of a suspect who is not placed on trial, or flown to Guantánamo, but taken to a country where torture is common.

These suspects are denied legal representation, and their detention is concealed from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The most common destination is Egypt, but there is evidence of detainees also being flown to Jordan, Morocco, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Syria.

Precise numbers are impossible to determine. A report on renditions published by New York University school of law and the New York City Bar Association suggests that around 150 people have been "rendered" in the last four years, but that is only an estimate. A handful have emerged from what has been labelled a secret gulag, and have given deeply disturbing accounts of horrific mistreatment.

Prisoner abuse: A California Army National Guard sergeant has been discharged and sentenced to a year in military confinement for abusing detainees in Iraq, authorities said Friday.

Sgt. David Fimon, 26, pleaded guilty to multiple charges Monday during a court-martial in Baghdad that stemmed from allegations that 12 soldiers with Fullerton-based Alpha Company 1st Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment abused prisoners, said Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone, a Task Force Baghdad spokesman. The counts — maltreatment of detainees, conspiracy to commit maltreatment of detainees, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice — were heard in a mid-level court called a special court-martial, Whetstone said. Special courts-martial are also underway for two other men in the Fullerton unit. They are scheduled to finish before next week.

Murder: An Iraqi taxi driver today described to a court martial how he was beaten senseless by seven British paratroops in a vicious attack from which one of his passengers never recovered.

Athar Finnijan Saddam, giving evidence to the hearing in Colchester, Essex, unbuttoned his sleeve and said: "They hit me on my arm, my forearm. They hit my elbow, my head, my back, all over my body."

Mr Saddam told the court that he was carrying several passengers to the market at the village of al-Ferkah, north of Basra in southern Iraq, in his Toyota on May 2003, 11 days after hostilities had officially ceased.

He described how the men approached in two military vehicles and stopped him. He said he had initially attempted to show the soldiers his registration documents.

"First I was standing talking to them. They did not understand what I was saying and they started to beat me," he said in translated testimony.

"Then I fell on the floor from the blows and they continued hitting me, and then I passed out." He told the court that he was struck with rifle butts, helmets, fists and boots.

Shades of fascism: It’s no surprise that the Bush administration has fudged the terror warnings for its own benefit. Exploiting fears of terrorism is central to Bush’s presidency. His aides don’t even pretend otherwise, explaining to a Washington Post reporter in the 2004 election campaign that Bush’s strategy was aimed at stoking public fears about terrorism, raising new concerns about Kerry’s ability to protect Americans and reinforcing Bush’s image as the steady anti-terrorism candidate.

But beyond ensuring his re-election, Bush’s manipulation of his citizenry’s national security concerns has proven enormously politically expedient. Americans are regularly told by their government that they should be scared. For many, their identity is wrapped up in their sense of how safe they feel, and the ‘Other’ may have to die so that they feel protected. Bush has deftly balanced his paradoxical assertions that Americans should be very afraid of terrorism, but that they’re safe with him. And as such, he has cultivated a large pool of malleable citizens who are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, no matter the circumstances. The shades of fascism in this equation are hard to deny. For though the US may not be a bona fide fascist state in the traditional sense, the current obsession with national security, militaristic rhetoric and imperial ambitions conform with any general theory of fascism. Other traits of Bush’s government fit the bill as well: hyper-nationalism, emphasis on machismo, rollback of personal freedoms, reliance on authoritarian and charismatic leadership, and framing day-to-day life as permanent war.

Bush claims that much of this is necessary because ‘The world changed on September the 11th.’ But the reality is that Bush had an aggressive foreign policy waiting in the hopper long before the terrorists struck. His coterie of neoconservative hawk advisers were chomping on the bit to implement their decades-old vision of advancing US military and political hegemony over the globe. The threat of al Qaeda provided a fortuitous opening. With the inception of a ‘war on terror’ the divisions between what’s allowed in peacetime and what’s allowed when the nation is at war have dissolved. Even better, a war on terror is a war without end. In December 2001, White House aides told Time magazine that they expect the war to endure for at least the next 50 years.

Now Comes The Hopeful Part

Eroding base: Two months after Bush declared major combat in Iraq completed in May 2003, most Christians thought the United States had acted prudently, according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Those agreeing with the military effort were 68 percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of white Catholics and 79 percent of white evangelicals. Mainline denominations are those that originated in Europe and include Lutherans, Episcopalians and Methodists.

The survey numbers fell during the following two years.

A poll last July by the Pew Forum showed 56 percent o f white mainline Protestants and 54 percent o f white Catholics supported military involvement. Even among evangelicals, who helped Bush win re-election, support had fallen by 11 percentage points.

Florida tipping: A narrow plurality of likely voters in Florida thinks the United States was not justified in waging war in Iraq and should bring its troops back home within a year, according to a new statewide poll. The poll, commissioned by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Florida Times-Union, reflects drooping public support for the war policy nationwide, with opinions sharply divided by gender and political party.

Ongoing violence in Iraq, the lack of a clear exit strategy and the daily stream of American casualties have sapped what was once a popular cause.

Crumbling right: When President Bush meets with his Iraqi counterpart at the White House on Tuesday, the administration and its supporters are sure to extol the virtues and the wisdom of the American role in rebuilding Iraq.

But there's sure to be some head shaking and criticism as well, and this time from some unexpected corners.

Staunch supporters of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq have become more vocal and public with their concern over the way things are going there, prompting observers to suggest that even Republicans are getting nervous.

"The Administration is now starting to lose its base on the war, and if this continues, it will come under increasing pressure to accelerate our withdrawal," said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and former adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He recently penned the book, "Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq."

"I have been struck that so many of the intellectual, neo-conservative supporters of the war have been quite critical of the Bush administration's management, or mismanagement, of the post-war situation in Iraq, both politically and militarily," Diamond told FOXNews.com.

Ha ha! Fox News posted this story!

The act is wearing thin: President Bush's public standing has hit record lows amid broad support for an independent investigation of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and calls for postponing congressional action on $70 billion in proposed tax cuts to help pay for storm recovery, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

President Bush's overall job approval rating now stands at 42 percent, the lowest of his presidency and down three points since Hurricane Katrina savaged the Gulf Coast two weeks ago. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Bush's performance, a double-digit increase since January.

Bush's handling of Iraq and terrorism also have never been lower, according to the poll. Thirty-eight percent approve of the way Bush is handling the situation in Iraq and half the country now approve of the way Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism.

A change of heartland: A City Council committee on Monday weighed in on the war in Iraq, hearing emotional testimony on both sides of the issue before advancing a resolution calling for an "orderly and rapid" withdrawal of American troops. If the full council approves the measure, Chicago would be one of the first big cities in the country officially to urge the federal government to end the war, said Ald. Joseph Moore (49th), a lead sponsor of the resolution, already endorsed by 40 of the council's 50 aldermen. The council will consider the measure Wednesday. And what heft might Chicago's opinion have? "When you have a city as diverse as Chicago is and large as Chicago is weighing in on this important issue, I think it will have real impact," Moore said. "We are not Berkeley, Calif., or Madison, Wis., that routinely passes this sort of resolution. We are from the heartland."


Opinion: Ever since the world learned of the illegal detentions and brutal behavior at American military prisons, the Bush administration has bet it could outlast public outrage with phony investigations and stonewalling. Just before Congress went on summer holiday, Republican leaders yanked the military budget from the Senate floor rather than face two amendments intended to impose the rule of law on the camps.

One measure would define the nature of detainees taken in antiterrorism operations according to constitutional principles and international treaties - and prohibit abuse and torture. The other would create a panel like the 9/11 commission to finally give Americans the truth about how the administration's prison policies led to out-of-control camps like Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

The new laws were sponsored by two Republicans, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have shown remarkable courage on this issue. But they and other Republicans have withheld support for the investigation, which was proposed by Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

McCain and Graham have said they think it is more important to look forward than to hold an investigation. We respect their views, but they are missing the point. The American public needs answers about the prisons, and it is simply not acceptable that a few low-level reservists go to jail while the civilian lawyers who wrote the torture policies get promoted and the general who devised the interrogations escapes even the mildest rebuke.

Beyond that, the problems have not gone away. Many of the interrogation policies that the military's own lawyers considered repugnant are still in place; American troops have only a vague notion of what is allowed; and the administration still claims that President George W. Bush can ignore the Constitution as long as he does so in regard to foreigners.

Just this week, the White House argued that the Supreme Court should not review the case of a Yemeni prisoner charged with war crimes. He admits he drove Osama bin Laden's car, but says he never attacked American troops. The administration wants to try him without judicial oversight, under ever-changing rules and without letting him see all the evidence. Even if he is acquitted, the administration says it will keep him in jail.

The administration says it needs to be able to hold on to dangerous terrorists. Of course it does, and nothing prevents it from doing that. But no amount of concern about terrorism gives it the power to detain innocent people or brutalize those who are guilty. That is why the United States has laws, courts and judges. We can never be sure any new laws will be enforced until we know the truth about how the old ones were swept aside. That is why McCain, Graham and other Republicans who understand the importance of these issues should support an independent inquiry.

Editorial: Today the Pentagon will hold the America Supports You Freedom Walk, ostensibly to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and to show support for members of the armed forces. Nothing could be better contrived to show the high price Americans have paid since that day of infamy.

The Freedom Walk is limited to those who register and submit to being searched. The route of the march will be fenced and lined with police officers. No one can join the march en route. No one can leave it. The press cannot walk along the route. The walk to proclaim Americans' freedom reveals how much freedom we have lost.

Opinion: Another Sept. 11 anniversary passes, marking yet another moment in what is referred to as the "war on terror." George W. Bush called it that just hours after the hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A lot of other countries, Canada included, followed suit, and the battle was engaged a few weeks later in Afghanistan. The war on terror now enters its fifth year, making it as long as the First World War, almost as long as the Second, and longer than the Korean War.

Each week, in a number of different U.S. newspapers and on some U.S. television networks, you can read or watch a roll call of the latest American dead as the fight continues in Afghanistan, and for the past 2 1/2 years, also in Iraq. Unlike Vietnam, where viewers watched a parade of mostly young, black faces marking the toll, this war's dead seem to be made up of a cross-section of colours and ages. But as in all wars, most of the dead are young, some very young. Each week there seems to be at least one 18-year-old listed. Eighteen years old. That means that on Sept. 11, 2001, those youngsters were barely in their teens -- just 13 or 14. Barely into high school, their parents probably still watching out the window as they headed down the driveway to classes. Now, they're dead soldiers. That's how long this war has been going on, and as those fighting it keep telling us, it's going to go on a lot longer yet. This, as they also keep telling us, is a conflict unlike any other.

Opinion: While the world has been falling all over itself to remember the victims of 9-11 and digging deep in its pockets to aid the wealthiest nation on the planet recovering from a natural disaster, a ferocious man-made onslaught on a town in northeast Iraq is being virtually ignored.

This is yet one more example of the double standards prevalent today when the color of your passport can determine your worth as a human being.

We saw this discrepancy recently when 1,000 Iraqis — mainly women and children — who lost their lives on a Baghdad bridge were a mere footnote in the Western media.

And we are witnessing this discrepancy now as our screens fill with images of Hurricane Katrina and 9-11 commemoration ceremonies with next to nothing about the horrors of Tal Afar, a stricken town in northeast Iraq, accused of harboring insurgents.

Opinion: In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind recalled in the New York Times Magazine a conversation he had with a senior adviser to Bush in 2002. Suskind was pointedly told that guys like him were in "the reality-based community," which, the aide defined, as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality."

"That's not the way the world really works anymore," the aide continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality "judiciously, as you will' we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out."

Here are some of the "realities" of Team Bush that I've been judiciously studying:

* You can go to war without raising the revenues necessary to pay for it.

* You can win a war without drafting the troops needed for battle.

* You can put political cronies in charge of key government agencies, and they will be competent.

* You can help average Americans by giving tax breaks to the richest.

* You can keep up with "the people" by allowing only those who are already on board to be part of the conversation.

* And you can protect America best by sending its National Guard to fight in Mesopotamia.

I would say these "realities" have come crashing down, proving that gravity is a reality-based law of nature.

Casualty Reports

Local story: London, UK, soldier killed in roadside bombing in Basra.

Local story: Palmer, AK, soldier killed in roadside bombing near Balad.

A parent's words: There are certain days, certain events that stand out in our minds and memories. Things that happen in our lives that seem to forever change the way we think and act.

Most likely there aren't many people who, when they hear the phrase 9/11, cannot remember where they were, what they were doing and how they felt when they heard the news of that day four years ago. That simple two-number phrase has shaped the direction of more than one country.

Today, Sept. 13, is such a day for me. In fact, it far outweighs 9/11 in its impact in my life and the lives of all of my family and many of our friends. On Sept. 13, 2004, at about 5 p.m., two strangers, men in uniform, drove into my driveway and forever changed the way I look at life.

When you have sons in the military and they are sent to far-off lands to fight in a war, there is really only one reason men in uniform come to your door. They come to tell you that a son has been killed.

It seems somehow strange that it's been a year since that day. Sometimes it feels as if it just happened. The emotions are that raw. Other times it seems these feelings have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when I didn't bear this burden. A time when I didn't all too often wake up to either my own tears or the tears of my wife.

This is my life, and I believe that it always will be this way. 9/13 has affected everything I do, everything I say. How I look at the simplest aspects of life.


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