Friday, April 02, 2004

Ya know what...it's my birthday...my darling wife called me from Baghdad, and its a gorgeous spring day outside...

I'm taking the day off.
FALLUJAH: "A SYMBOL OF BARBARITY"

It seems these cretins are conflicted.

Spare me.
As the rage cooled in Fallujah yesterday and the burned and beaten bodies of four American civilians were wrapped in white cloth, many townspeople said they were torn between pride in the attack and shame over the mutilations.

Many said they supported the killing of four security consultants -- three identified by family and friends as Jerko "Jerry" Zovko, 32, Michael Teague, 38, and Scott Helvenston, 38 -- because they were Americans and Americans are despised.

But some of those same people said they felt embarrassed when mobs tore the bodies apart afterward and dragged them through the streets, turning this town in the heart of the Sunni Triangle into a symbol not only of resistance but of barbarity...

"This is a bad advertisement for everything we stand for," said Muhammad Khalifa, a spare parts trader who closed his shop during the disturbance in a sign of disgust. "We may hate Americans. We may hate them with all our hearts. But all men are creatures of God."

In the morning, a team of U.S. officials rushed to a meeting with Fallujah's mayor and top clerics. U.S. officials said the clerics promised to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, at Friday Prayer to condemn the ambush and the grisly aftermath.

One of the gravest sins in Islam is desecrating the dead.
Really? And where might murder rank?
FRIDAY, APRIL 2d.

This is day 327 of CPT Patti's deployment.

Happy birthday to me.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

IF WE IGNORE YOU WILL YOU GO AWAY?

Please?
Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has filed a lawsuit against unnamed French and US officials, accusing them of kidnapping him.
OUCH!

This guy is angry.
I can no longer tolerate the relativism and masochism of a West incapable of recalling its own history other than to denounce it. I can no longer tolerate comparing the Crusades to jihad, when the Crusades were nothing but a parenthesis in the history of Christianity while jihad is an integral part of Islam.
(via One Hand Clapping)
PERSPECTIVE

From an Air Force nurse who treated wounded Americans in Iraq.
Palmer said that injured service men and women who had been serving in the more tumultuous northern region were brought to her medical facility for treatment. They told her that the Iraqis who continued to support Hussein and opposed the American presence in their country were in the minority.

“I didn’t talk to a single soldier that didn’t know why we were there and think we should be,” said Palmer. “Good things are being done in that country. We are helping them get back on their feet, and they do appreciate what we are doing.”
THE ROLE OF MODERATE RELIGION IN A POST-DICTATOR STATE

An interesting piece positing that much of the unrest is normal...and what moderate religion can do to fix it.
When countries like Afghanistan or Iraq are liberated from either a religious or a secular tyranny, or when regimes like the former Soviet Union implode, an enormous increase in antisocial behavior typically follows. As if someone had removed a heavy lid from a boiling pot, its contents spill over in an explosive increase in crime, drug abuse, AIDS, alcoholism, child abandonment, and much more.

The US and its allies are so dedicated to liberty that they tend to ignore the darker side of the early phases of democratization. Although it is rarely put this way, Western actions seem to be based on the assumption that this damaging behavior is the price that must be paid to learn to be free, and will subside on its own. But that's hardly the case, as experiences in countries as different as Russia and Iraq have shown...

Russia, because it has been liberated longer, is a good example. In the four years following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's overall crime rate increased 73 percent and murders 116 percent. An indication of how shredded the social fabric had become is that victims in 63 percent of major criminal-injury cases were relatives or friends of the offenders...

Advocates of liberty assume that people are good by nature, but corrupted by totalitarian regimes - and that once these regimes unravel, people will take to doing what is right. But being pro- social requires that people internalize a moral code. Communities must gently chide those who deviate from the straight and narrow and honor those who fulfill their social obligations.

In the long run, liberated societies can form new informal moral codes and social controls. In the short run, however, they must build on what is in place. And in many areas, this is religion. I refer not to the fundamentalist but to the moderate teachings that exist in all religions, Islam included. The line that separates the two is precisely what is at issue: Fundamentalism undergirds totalitarian regimes; moderate practices depend largely on moral suasion.
REUNION
Daddy isn't just a picture sewn on a teddy bear anymore. He's not just a videotape singing the same songs and playing the same patty-cake games over and over for more than a year while his son and daughter turn 4 and 2.

Daddy finally became real for his family again on Tuesday as Spc. Christopher Fultz of Mesa, a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy, came home from Iraq with 138 other Arizona Army National Guard soldiers...

Before going to Iraq, Fultz's biggest worry was that Chance, then 3, and Leah, only 1, would forget him, his wife, Michaelle, said.

"We had only a week before they moved out, and I did anything I could think of to help them remember him," she said.

"They had their 'daddy bears,' and we made a video. Whenever they wanted, they could play the tape and sing and play with him."

Fultz, who was slightly wounded in a mortar attack, said the ploy not only kept him fresh in the children's minds, but confirmed that "I married the perfect woman."
OH WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

Yesterday I linked to a story about Iraqis mutilating bodies in the street.

Overnight I heard from my buddy Defense Contractor Guy. DCG was once upon a time an Army Intelligence officer. He sees the story from a most interesting perspective
I'm amazed at the coverage of the burning cars and mutilated bodies in Fallujah. Bombs go off, people get killed, and cars burn daily in Iraq. However, this is the first "first hand" account of an attack that I've seen. In fact more than one news organization covered it (I saw photos from Reuters and AP ... but they might have bought rights from the same source...).

I do not believe this was a random attack by disorganized Iraqis. This is called information warfare.

I would bet the press was tipped off that something was going to happen. They were let in to the area unmolested. I do not believe reporters are out roaming the bad parts of town looking for stories ... in Iraq that is a good way to get yourself killed. Rather the Press tends to stay in the Hotels in Iraq and write reports from around the swimming pool or occasionally go out to interview a few people. I want to know what made them go to Fallujah that day at that time!? The terrorists that did this gave the press something to take pictures of - very graphic stuff too! I believe the intent is to discourage the US.

You say I'm being pretty cynical about this??? Well two years ago I heard an Assistant Secretary of Defense call Somalia a successful information warfare operation against the United States. The press could not move freely in Somalia - but were called in and allowed in to take pictures of those soldiers' dead bodies being dragged through the streets. Those pictures were in great measure responsible for us leaving Somalia.

Oh and those people that came by to hit the car with shovels and pose for pictures - that is exactly what it is - posed.

What about the spontaneous uprising of people that mutilated the bodies... I would question whether it was spontaneous. Money can make people do strange, evil, or brave things. Yes - I'm saying those people in Iraq who mutilated and strung up the bodies may have been paid to do that. It has been done before to generate rallies in support of Yasser Arafat (you think any is crazy enough to stand in from of an Israeli tank?)

Here is a quote from 60 minutes with one example: "Arafat may have $1 billion, but he sure isn't spending it to live well. He's holed up in his Ramallah compound, which the Israelis all but reduced to rubble a year-and-a-half ago. Arafat has always lived
modestly, which you can't say about his wife, Suha. According to Israeli officials, she gets $100,000 a month from Arafat out of the Palestinian budget, and lives lavishly in Paris on this allowance."

"He [Arafat] also uses the money to bolster his own standing. Both Israeli and U.S. sources say those recent outpourings of support at Arafat's compound were "rent-a-rallies," and that Arafat has spent millions to support terrorists and purchase weapons."

And don't forget Suicide bombers' families' get paid by the Palestinian Authority (and used to get an additional $25K from Saddam) after they blow themselves up.

I think it would be easy to pay someone to drag a body around.

Sick and evil ... But very possible.
I love having smart friends. Thanks Dave.
LEAVING BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Seems like a good, and hugely symbolic move to me.
For the Air Force, that largely means Balad Air Base, about an hour north of Baghdad. Balad, Hake says, is in the process of becoming the service’s key base in Iraq. Some units from Baghdad have already made the move. Fighter aircraft from Tallil Air Base in the south of Iraq flew to their new home at Balad a few months ago. Balad will also become the arrival and departure point for passengers relying on military aircraft.

For many Army units, the move won’t be as far. Camp Victory, just north of the airport, already houses a considerable number of soldiers. Trailers are sprouting up daily at Camp Victory North, an adjacent piece of property that used to be a game reserve. In fact, some say that gazelles can still be seen occasionally from passing Humvees.

In all, the military says about 19,000 soldiers will call the two camps home. Much of that will consist of the 1st Cavalry, which will be headquartered at Victory North. One of the division’s brigades is already moved in. Other elements are on BIAP. Still others haven’t arrived in the country yet.
THURSDAY, APRIL 1st.

This is day 326 of CPT Patti's deployment.

No foolin'.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I'D LIKE TO SHAKE HER HAND

For refusing to take the race bait.
Gratefully acknowledging the risk that U.S. Marines took to rescue her and five others in her Army convoy -- ambushed on March 23, 2003, in Iraq -- Johnson recalled it was a rainbow of black, white and Hispanic fighters who saved her.

"Those Marines didn't care what color we were. We were U.S. soldiers, and they were going to rescue us," she said. "And we didn't care what color they were."

Race became a point of debate nationwide when Johnson fought for and ultimately received an increase in disability pay after her stint in captivity.

Some argued that another high-profile prisoner, Jessica Lynch, received more than Johnson because Lynch is white.

Johnson insisted she never thought she deserved more than Lynch, who suffered graver injuries, but said all prisoners of war should receive more than they do.

"It's very common for veterans to have to fight for their disability," she said. "I'm not bitter. I'm not upset. I'm just happy to be alive."
MAKING LIFE BETTER
Fresh strawberries from California. Stationary biking to the beat of rap music. Free Internet. And within gunsights, indoor basketball courts and maybe some cappuccino bars.

What a difference a year makes.

During the Iraq war and the ensuing months, U.S. troops invariably ate MREs - packaged military rations - showered with bottled water and slept in packed, sweltering tents or on the cold desert floor.

Now, settling in for the long haul, the lifestyles of American soldiers are getting major upgrades. The world beyond the concertina wires may be just as dangerous as last year, but within military bases across Iraq, "Little Americas" are acquiring better food, more recreational activities and comfortable living quarters...

Despite nightmarish transport and supply problems, the up to 10,000 meals a day served include steaks from Australia, shrimp from the United States and ice cream made in Holland. The breakfast buffets would put many a luxury hotel to shame and, Moore says, feature "crisp American-style bacon, not the thick, salty European variety."

"They said we would be eating a bunch of MREs, but the food here is better than in Germany," said Pvt. Angel Lopez, a soldier from the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade.

Lopez had just finished e-mailing friends in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, from one of the 11 computer terminals with free Internet access. Telephone calls to the United States and most other parts of the world cost only 5 cents a minute.

The computer and telephone booths are in an aircraft hangar that was once part of a parachute training center for Saddam Hussein's fallen regime. It also houses a gym with an array of exercise equipment, a television and games room and a bazaar where Iraqi vendors sell carpets, DVDs and paintings of desert scenes. There's even an artist to paint family portraits from the soldiers' photographs...

Not all soldiers in Iraq benefit from the improved living conditions. Following the unwritten rule of most armies, the further away from headquarters one gets, the more basic things become.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE MIDDLE EAST, SUMMARIZED IN A SINGLE SENTENCE
The residents struck the bodies, cutting off parts, while shouting "long live Islam."
(Story sent to me by Lani)
MORE DONATIONS

We've seen school supplies, winter coats, reading material, soccer balls...and now... wedding dresses!

And don't miss the prayers for Soldiers later in the story.

The most special day of a young girl's life is when she gets married. To help make this day even more memorable for brides in the country of Iraq, The Bride Ministries, located in Jacksonville, is sending beautiful wedding gowns and veils to help celebrate this unforgettable event in their lives. What started out as a few wedding gowns and veils has now become an overflow of love towards the Iraqi people.

Up until recently the Iraqi people were not allowed to love and marry those of their choice, according to Debbie Hicks, co-founder of The Bride Ministries.

"America, and our soldiers, have made it so the people of Iraq can now fall in love and marry whomever they please," said Hicks. "Before it was the choice of the Baath party to govern who married who."

"We started off with three wedding dresses and veils from Allure Bridle Shop in Medford. Then, overnight it turned into 100. A private organization has donated 100 dresses and veils that we are now sending to Iraq. This same organization will be adding to this as the need arises," said Hicks.

When asked what lead to this idea, Hicks said, "The name of this campaign is called 'Love Never Fails'. We felt impressed that since the Iraqis are now free to get married, and how our soldiers have laid down their lives for this freedom, the least we can do is to provide beautiful wedding dresses for the occasion."...

In doing this they have reached out to all who are in need of a wedding gown, be it here in the Jackson County or in Iraq.

"We have been reaching out and supporting our soldiers during the whole Iraq war," said Hicks, "You will see this in our website. At one point we made heart-shaped buttons with the American flag on them. On these buttons we wrote 'Support our troops in prayer', and signed a little card that went with the buttons. The card simply said, "Call to Prayer, our brave men and women, who have been called to interrupt their lives on our behalf."

Hicks and the others wish to acknowledge how these soldiers have left their families, homes and jobs to defend other's right to freedom. "By wearing this pin you are saying, 'I too am willing to have my life interrupted. So stop me at any time, anywhere and let's pray for our troops,'" said Hicks.
STRESS, SUICIDE AND THEIR CAUSES

The author doesn't support his assertions with data but this is a very interesting piece nonetheless.
The higher suicide rate in Iraq can be attributed to the higher percentage of married and reserve troops, and the lower amount of stress training and screening in basic training for non-combat troops.

Older, married and reserve troops always experience more stress when in a combat zone, and it is stress that leads to higher suicide rates. Israel discovered this, for example, when it noted that the growing number of mental health casualties in the 1970s and 80s were disproportionately among the older reserve troops. During the 1991 Gulf War, which only lasted a hundred hours, the older reserve troops suffered a higher rate of non-combat casualties, including the mysterious "Gulf War Syndrome."

IF YOU THOUGHT YOU DIDN'T UNDERSTAND ISLAM BEFORE...

My guess is this will leave you shaking your head.

This is a very frank British newspaper article...the subject and language of which are not for the easily offended.
Aseel, the girl, is trembling as she repeats the words after her would-be husband, Wissam. "I agree to marry you according to the Koran, the Sunna of the prophet, and the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt ..."

And here comes the interesting part: "For a period of three months."

What?

Aseel and Wissam, both Shia Muslims, are performing one of the most controversial rituals of their sect: the Muta - literally "leisure" - marriage. Unlike other Shia rituals which involve grieving, crying and whipping, this one is all about satisfaction and happiness, a way to stop you from becoming a sexually frustrated maniac at the same time as allowing you to go to bed knowing that Allah is still happy with you.
THE AMERICA I LIVE IN

Soldier's family and friends donate arabic language books...so prisoners have something to read.

The social workers began teaching the boys to read and write, except there wasn't much to read. So U.S. Army Capt. Dave Seiter, a reservist who works as a lawyer in Indianapolis, asked his family and friends to help out.

They logged on to Internet bookseller Amazon.com and flooded Seiter with Arabic language books, comics and booklets for children. With that, Seiter and the prison's warden, Wali Jaleel Jaber, opened a library.

"I certainly don't expect that we can make all of them avid readers," said Seiter, who oversees Iraq's juvenile justice system for the U.S.-led occupation authority. "But if we can affect a couple of them, that makes it worthwhile."

The boy prisoners, all wearing orange jumpsuits, knelt in the facility's sun-splashed courtyard Sunday during a ceremony dedicating the library to the prison's previous warden. The warden was slain last month by a pair of juvenile gunmen who robbed him of his cellular phone. His killers are at large.
GOOD READ

Once again, we rely on the local press to give us an up-close look at Soldiers in Iraq.
A pair of Iraqi men in a minivan pull up and offer a prized gift to the soldiers - packages of toilet paper. As the soldiers inspect the vehicle, one of the men offers to share some of his Iraqi tea.

"It has the flavor of hell," the man says, holding a cup out to Spc. Eldredge.

"That doesn't sound very good," the specialist says with a grin.

"No, it's very good," the man assures him. "It prevents the stomach gases."

"I'll pass," Spc. Eldredge says, now laughing.
CONVOY SECURITY

You may wonder what convoys do about security...this article gives a fair rundown.
The convoy included an M978 fuel tanker, a flat-rack pulling a trailer with another flat-rack of water containers, and three Strykers providing security.

Convoys must have at least three vehicles during the day and four at night, Nickens said.

“If the Strykers were not with us, we’d have to have at least two gun trucks with .50-cals on them,” he said.

Everyone in the convoy, including the drivers, had an M-16 rifle or an M249 machine gun.

If they are attacked, convoys return fire and keep moving, Nickens said.

“We only stop if we have a disabled vehicle. The infantry engage, somebody pulls security, and they extract the personnel. If somebody is injured they call medevac,” he said.

In just over three months riding convoys in Iraq, Nickens has yet to be attacked, but he knows of at least one bomb attack in Mosul that has killed a soldier riding in a convoy.

The convoy headed out of Mosul, taking a rural back road instead of the main highway to Firebase Aggie. Soon, the vehicles were lost in a sea of green fields broken by the occasional small village of mud huts where wandering donkeys and geese gambled with death beneath the wheels of the Strykers.

The road was bumpy and Sgt. Baleenda Ward had to keep one hand on the wheel of her M978 fuel tanker and another on her M-16 balanced on the dashboard.

“They train us to drive and shoot at the same time,” she said.

Ward’s first and only attempt at shooting and driving was while training in Kuwait. She hasn’t been attacked in Iraq yet and doesn’t spend much time worrying about it.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31st.

Day 325. And so far a much better day than yesterday...even though my today began with a trip to the dentist! (Gives you an idea about yesterday, doesn't it...)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

THE WELCOME PHONE CALL

I mentioned at the outset today that I was on edge due to CPT Patti's requirement to be out and about in Baghdad.

She just called. Back "home" and safe. She called as soon as she got back, just as she promised she would. Problem was, that was five hours after she told me to expect her call.

And among the convoys associated with their outing today, two IEDs went off. Minor scratches are the worst of the injuries, thanks to God and the very poor timing of the bastards who exploded the bombs.

CPT Patti was not injured.

That was how her day went. And mine. I sincerely hope you had a better day than we did.

I can't take many more like this one.
EVIDENCE THAT TAKING THE FIGHT TO THE TERRORIST PAYS OFF
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's purported operations chief, has told U.S. interrogators that the group had been planning attacks on the Library Tower in Los Angeles and the Sears Tower in Chicago on the heels of the September 11, 2001, terror strikes.

Those plans were aborted mainly because of the decisive U.S. response to the New York and Washington attacks, which disrupted the terrorist organization's plans so thoroughly that it could not proceed, according to transcripts of his conversations with interrogators...

Mohammed then decided to conduct two waves of attacks, hitting the East Coast first and following up with a second series of attacks.

"Osama had said the second wave should focus on the West Coast," he reportedly said.

But the terrorists seem to have been surprised by the strength of the American reaction to the September 11 attacks.

"Afterwards, we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run" Mohammed is quoted as saying.

Al Qaeda's communications network was severely disrupted, he said. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had to rely on couriers, although they continued to use Internet chat rooms.

"Before September 11, we could dispatch operatives with the expectation of follow-up contact, but after October 7 [when U.S. bombing started in Afghanistan], that changed 180 degrees. There was no longer a war room ... and operatives had more autonomy."
MORE ON THE OIL FOR FOOD RIPOFF

I'm still not seeing the Haliburton or Enron style outrage over this.
The spokesman for Kofi Annan confirmed that the secretary-general's soft-spoken son, Kojo, was on the payroll of Cotecna Inspections of Switzerland until December 1998. In that very month, the United Nations awarded Cotecna the contract to monitor and authenticate the goods shipped to Iraq.

Prices were inflated to allow for 10 percent kickbacks, and the goods were often shoddy and unusable. As the lax Cotecna made a lot of corporate friends, Iraqi children suffered from rotted food and diluted medicines.

The U.N. press agent also revealed that Benon Sevan, Annan's longtime right-hand man in charge of the flow of billions, was advised by U.N. lawyers that the names of companies receiving the contracts "was privileged commercial information, which could not be made public." Sevan had stonewalling help.
AUSTRALIA...SPAIN IT'S NOT
Australia's opposition Labor leader has dropped in opinion polls, just days after saying he would pull Australian troops out of Iraq if he wins an election later this year.

The majority of respondents in the poll also said Australian military personnel in Iraq should stay there "until their job is done," a stance echoing that of Prime Minister John Howard, who last year contributed troops, planes and ships to the U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein.
IN CASE YOU WERE RUNNING SHORT ON REASONS TO DESPISE THE NEW YORK TIMES

This is from an NYT OP/ED on the closing of a newspaper in Baghdad by the CPA.
One of the dispatches that led to the closing of Al Hawza was a February report claiming that an American missile, not a terrorist car bomb, had caused an explosion that killed more than 50 Iraqi police recruits. False charges like that have helped poison Iraqi opinion against American forces and made their difficult and dangerous job even more so. Yet it is possible to condemn such malicious rumor-mongering without endorsing the paper's shutdown, which, though ostensibly for 60 days, could prove permanent.

Newspapers like Al Hawza do not create the hostility Americans face in Iraq — they reflect it. Shutting them down, however satisfying it may feel to the Bush administration, is not a promising way to dissolve that hostility.
I would be willing to bet that the author of that piece doesn't have a loved one in uniform in Iraq. Why? Well, it seems he failed to mention this as reported by USA Today.
This week, a Baghdad newspaper run by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was shut down after coalition officials said the publication incited violence against the U.S.-led force occupying Iraq. Military officials say the newspaper, Al-Hawza, called on readers to take up arms against U.S. forces.

"It's one thing to call us pigs," one coalition official says. "But when you call on people to take up a rifle or take up a knife to slit the throat of the American pigs, that crosses the line. If we let this go on unchecked, people will die."
Seems like a noteworthy omission to me. Probably should to most folks who'd prefer all our soldiers come home alive.
A BLUNT SELF ASSESSMENT OF UN SECURITY FAILURES IN IRAQ
The report pulls no punches in its condemnation of the UN's lack of security measures, both before the UN went into Iraq last May, and after, when it became clear the UN could become a target there.

The independent panel harshly reprimands two administrators in Baghdad. It says they didn't even take simple precautions such as taping up office windows with blast-resistant film. Officials say 90 per cent of the injuries were caused by flying shards of glass.

The report says it believes UN officials had the mistaken conviction that the UN would not be a target of attack, in spite of clear warnings to the contrary...

Annan did ask UN security co-ordinator Tun Myat of Myanmar to resign. The report criticized him for appearing "oblivious to the developing crisis" in Baghdad. Myat has been on paid leave since November.
To me this story demonstrates that many folks have been/are still slow to accept that the Global War on Terror is (a) actually a war, (b) against a ruthless, soulless enemy and (c) unlike any conflict ever fought.

Here, the United Nations is faulted for believing they would not be a target.

I think it bears asking who is the UN? Simply put, the UN is comprised of representative of the world. It appears much of the world thought the UN was untouchable, that it could just waltz in with its blue flags and all would be well.

But they couldn't and they can't, because they aren't. The bad guys in this conflict don't have any respect for the UN...just as they have no respect for human life.

Has the UN learned? Perhaps the functionaries of Mr. Annan's staff have. But have the member states? This week one might make inquiries in the Phillipines and Uzbekistan.

The lessons seem obvious to me...and in this regard I believe President Bush had some prophetic things to say about this war.

It will not be like any other war.

It will not be quick.

There is no neutral territory - that is what the President meant when he said in this war you are either with us or against us. The UN wanted to believe it was untouchable because it aspires to humanitarian objectives. Didn't make a difference in Iraq. They got bombed, they got out and they are still out.

Those who still don't "get" the scope of the problem haven't been paying attention. Perhaps this list will help...note the differences in the years up to 1995, and the years since. And notice again how the list grows for the years 2001 through 2003.

Me, I hate like hell that the September 11th commission's efforts appear to have become badly politicized. Because we've got a real problem on our hands with the enemy in this war. And politics isn't the answer.
A PLACE TO ESCAPE

I'm pretty certain this base is in the oft-mentioned "Sunni Triangle".
For a few hours a day, soldiers, airmen and Marines stationed at this sprawling base can take advantage of the best escapism that Hollywood has to offer.

The reason: a recently renovated movie theater that would make movie buffs at bases in Europe or the States envious...

“When we arrived, we looked around and it was just like home,” he said. Concession stands in the lobby sell “American” pizza, drinks and popcorn. Hundreds of cushioned red seats that might grace any theater in the States face the screen. A state-of-the-art Dolby surround sound system is in place. And the movies themselves are the same ones that are still showing at home — give or take a week.

The result is a theater that seats 740, including 130 in a balcony that generally will be opened only when the bottom section is full. Movies are shown three times a day — and they’re free to servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians. The pizza and popcorn aren’t. But Ortiz says the pizza business is booming.

“It tastes like American pizza,” Hill says.

Movies listed on posters outside the theater late last week included: “Twisted,” “Hidalgo,” “The Big Bounce” and “The Perfect Score.” Ortiz said AAFES is shipping the movies directly from its headquarters in Dallas.
VANITY, THY NAME IS...SOLDIER?
The Army has provided 157 soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division’s Company B, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment serving at Firebase Aggie, south of Mosul, with a pair of computers so they can surf the Internet and send e-mail.

The most popular Web sites among the soldiers include “Hot or Not.” Soldiers can post their pictures, then find out how “hot” other Web site visitors think they are.
SO VERY GENEROUS
When Spc. Kate Medina meets children in Baghdad, they already know her name.

“Medina, Medina,” they say, tugging at her battle dress uniform and pointing to their new clothes.

It all began with one mass e-mail Medina sent in October. Months later, the donated clothes are still coming in from all over the United States and Germany...

Kristi Jens received Medina’s e-mail on Dec. 3 from a friend who forwarded it to her and decided to take action in the Kaiserslautern military community. She set up clothing drives at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center chapel and at Ramstein Air Base’s Community Center in late February.

“I started immediately to gather things together because I have a soft spot for poor children,” Jens said.

Paying $15 for a pair of shoes is too much for some families in war-torn Iraq, Medina said...

“They wouldn’t have shoes, or [they had] shoes without soles,” Medina said. “They looked like they had just gone to the Salvation Army and put something on.”

It was these encounters with local children that prompted Medina to enlist the help of friends and family. In an e-mail, she described the children’s needs and asked for recipients of the message to donate clothing and blankets.

Little did she know that her e-mail would generate such a response.
TUESDAY, MARCH 30th.

Day 324.

I'm on edge today because I know she is, as they call it, "outside the wire", meaning she has left her operating base and is in some convoy in downtown Baghdad.

Ironically I know this only because she is no longer in command and has the time to correspond with me via an instant message service the Army provides.

When she was in command she was too consumed to update me very often. She left the Forward Operating Base (FOB) much more frequently then...the difference in my world being...I didn't know when she was out.

But today I do. And I'm not happy about it.

Monday, March 29, 2004

THE AMERICA I LIVE IN

The title of this post is a phrase that has been buzzing around in my head for a week or two.

Oddly, at the moment, I don't actually live in America, strictly speaking. But spiritually I do. And the America I live in is the America that actually has stepped up to the plate, and done our very best to make a difference in this world, even though it would be easier and more convenient not to.

A few posts down I linked to the story about parents standing between their children and service to the nation in the Military. See, I find that story interesting because that is not the America I live in.

Well, that story prompted a note from a reader, Barbara. See, Barbara lives in the America that I live in. She is a military mom and an active member of the Lutz Patriots, a group featured here before that puts together care packages for deployed soldiers they don't know. And Barbara has a different perspective on those parents...and she put it nicer than I ever would have. These are her words:
I just can't let the post go regarding the hesitancy of parents to stand behind their children wanting to enlist in the military. The Mom quoted in the Newsday.com article remarked that if something happened to her child she could not stand the guilt.

I would love to sit down and talk with her. In 1991, during the first Gulf War our son, Matt was 13. He and I watched the news regarding Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. He could not believe that the dictator of a country could just decide to invade another country in an attempt to control it's land and resources, brutally killing many innocent people. Matt made a large poster and placed it on our front fence with red, white and blue letters, stating -- WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS .

During the next few years he took courses in middle school and high school that would enable him to seek a military service academy appointment. We encouraged that and as a result, he was able to obtain a college degree and subsequent commission as a Marine Corps Infantry Officer. He is now a 1st Lieutenant, and loves what he does.

Matt has just completed two deployments and is 25 years old. When we ask him what he enjoys about the military, he loves telling us what he learns from more experienced men who are his senior, and also what he gains from teaching those younger men in his platoon. He has traveled all over the world in his young life. But most of all.... he just loves serving his country. The sight of those Trade Center Towers falling will never leave his memory. He just has an inherent God given conviction that there is right and wrong, good and evil .... and that our country is fighting a just war against terrorism.

I would tell that Mom quoted in the Newsday article that the military is not for everyone....but if she could read the letters we receive here in Florida from young enlisted men and women thanking us for care packages, she would change her mind. The most recent letter that touched me was from Jason, deployed to Iraq: " I am standing tall for our country. I just love it. And the good news is ... I just reenlisted over here."

I would tell her that I see young people every day, hanging out in malls for hours, with no direction or goals beyond what they are going to do that evening.

I would tell her that my guilt would have come from telling our son " No... I'm afraid to let you go into the military. " I am so proud of him and what he has become. And every day I just place him in God's hands.
Yep...that is the America I live in.
GOOD NEWS!
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service announced Thursday that it has 11 copies of “The Passion of the Christ” and will first show them to troops stationed outside of CONUS.

AAFES says it has begun shipping the film to overseas theaters. The first stops for the 11 prints are Hanau, Vogelweh, Vilseck, Mannheim and W├╝rzburg in Germany; RAF Mildenhall, England; Balad, Iraq; Yokota East, Japan; Balboni and Osan in Korea; and Courtney on Okinawa, Japan.

“The Passion of the Christ” will be circulated among 60 theaters throughout Europe and the Pacific, including Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom locations.

THE DOMINO EFFECT

The Bush Doctrine pays dividends.
Syria has asked Australia to use its close ties with the United States to help shake off its reputation as a terrorist haven and end a US-imposed diplomatic freeze, it was reported here on Saturday.

The Weekend Australian said Syria had sent a delegation to Canberra and had hosted a series of visits by Australian parliamentarians. Secret talks have centred on trying to change Syria’s reputation and mending its relations with Washington. Australia’s close relationship with Washington, and its much-higher profile in the Middle East, prompted Syria to appeal to Canberra for help, the report said.

The approach follows Libya’s recent British-sponsored rapprochement with the West, in which Australia also played a role.
ANOTHER DESERTER

Fleeing to Canada? That is so 1960s.
A US soldier is seeking asylum in Canada after attending meetings at a Quaker meeting house which changed his views on violence.

Hinzman is believed to be the first U.S. soldier to seek asylum in Canada because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Since his arrival, at least one other soldier has joined him, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. report...

Hinzman is now officially a deserter. Master Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said he has been listed in a federal law enforcement database.

But, she said, "Unless he is actually pulled over by police at a routine traffic stop or whatever, he could be a deserter for the rest of his life."

The military does not pursue deserters.

"We're fighting a war," she said. "We don't have time to go out looking for people who desert."...

Hinzman said he is ready to live with the consequences of his decision. It could mean he might never be able to return to the United States or that he may forever be labeled a traitor or coward by those who disagree with him. "As a soldier, I had signed up to defend the constitution, not to invade another country," he said.
Hinzman has a selective memory. His oath included more than he recalls
"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
THE WASHINGTON POST HAS TOO MUCH MONEY

I mean, if they paid someone to conduct the poll that reaches this conclusion...
Headline: Poll finds military families tiring of lengthy deployments
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
There are many things to complain about in Iraq, and by the time the Orient Express arrived at the Syrian border the Iraqi passengers on board had exhausted most of them.

"Bombings, kidnapping, robbery, unemployment," summarized one weary businessman. "Who'd want to stay here?"

But the mood changed abruptly when Syrian border guards began to evict from the train those unable to afford a bribe.

Iraq may be plagued with violence, but a taste of life in Syria --the last Baathist stronghold and a place with more than a whiff of the old Iraq -- convinces most Iraqis they are better off without the paranoia and corruption of a police state.

The symbolism of the scene at al-Rabia police station was clear.

"It's just like traveling back in time to the old Iraq," muttered another businessmen, Mohammed Ahmed, as the Syrians did their work.

The guards stood next to a huge poster of President Bashar Assad. On the Iraqi side of the border a similar picture of Saddam Hussein has been replaced by a political slogan.

"It makes me realize how far other countries have got to come," Ahmed said....

The train was soon making its way across the plains at a stately 30 mph. The passengers were ushered back to their cabins at the border crossing. On the Iraqi side, customs officials came to politely inquire if any passengers were carrying guns or bombs or looted archeological items.

There was no welcome to Syria. At the border, guards began ejecting people from the train. Those who had enough money were allowed back on.

Others, including this reporter, were taken to the local police station. Hours of paperwork followed.

One guard, asked if he thought the tumultuous events across the border augured change in Syria, replied: "We have noticed no change across the border. Everything is exactly the same as it has always been."

GEE, I WONDER IF SHE'LL BE CALLED TO TESTIFY?

And I wonder if she'll be on every news channel, morning show and Sunday political talk show on the dial. And I wonder if every word in her book will be presumed to be true and accurate.

Doubtful.
Presidential adviser Karen Hughes kicked off a six-week national book tour Sunday with unblinking support for President Bush and the war in Iraq.

Speaking about her memoir "Ten Minutes from Normal," Hughes said she was upset by recent claims from former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke that the administration didn't take the threat from al-Qaida seriously enough before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hughes called Clarke's criticism the "Washington blame game."

"The only person responsible for the al-Qaida attacks on America was al-Qaida," Hughes said Sunday. "I've been very distressed and almost sickened as I've watched over the last week the distortion that I've seen."
Since every blogger on the planet has hashed and rehashed Richard Clarke's book, testimony etc, I'm not going to do the same here. But I've had a behind the scenes discussion with a reader on this issue...and I'd like to ensure he sees this link.
Perhaps it was the best decision he could make under the circumstances. It's too bad Clarke cuts no one in the Bush administration the same slack he so easily cuts himself.
THE RECRUITER'S NEW ENEMY

Parents.
While statewide recruitment goals haven't suffered because of the Army National Guard's growing role in Iraq, some local recruiters say the war is making their jobs more difficult.

"The war is an issue," Sgt. First Class Thomas Dwyer told the Daily Record of Parsippany. "Kids go home thinking they want to do it, and then their parents hear the word military and they think they'll go to war."...

"One mother said to me that her son could join when he was 18," Dwyer said. "She said she wasn't giving him her signature because if something happened to him, the guilt would be on her shoulders."
I know that a lot of parents of deployed soldiers read this website frequently.

In view of those mentioned in this story, I salute you for recognizing that service can't always be "somone else's job".
GIVE THE UN A GREATER ROLE IN IRAQ?

They had one.
What would you call an international scam that involves nearly $11 billion in bribes and payoffs, the involvement of corrupt officials in very high places, the diversion of funds intended for starving and sick children into private pockets and the reluctance of top U.S. allies and partners to cooperate with an investigation of it all?

Well, you could call it the most underreported story of the year, and you would be right. Or you could call it what it is: The brewing United Nations scandal over Iraq's oil-for-food program.
So where is the outrage?
UPDATE ON THE DOG

The one who survived the assasination attempt.
ARMY sniffer dog Blaze found a cache of Iraqi rebels’ weapons — on his first day back at work after an assassination attempt.

The English springer spaniel unearthed the arms during a random search of a house near Basra...

And on his first day back, he showed why — unearthing an AK-47 rifle, three full magazines, a bayonet, 200 rounds of ammo, a sniper rifle sight, two Duska heavy machine-gun barrels, and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

They were at an address in the same Az Zubayr area, south west of Basra, where he was run down.


AND HE DOESN'T GET THE 25 MILLION DOLLARS
So much for family loyalty.

Saddam Hussein was nabbed in December after a relative who was one of his most trusted bodyguards ratted him out to U.S. troops, a new report says.

The man who led American G.I.s to Saddam's dirty bunker on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, was Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Musslit, a trusted relative known to Iraqis as "the fat man," the BBC says in a report to be broadcast tonight.

Musslit gave the secret away quickly after being arrested and interrogated by U.S. forces, the British TV network says...

Musslit was arrested in Baghdad and flown to Tikrit, where he broke under a few hours interrogation, spilling all he knew.

"He was then made to point out the remote farm where Saddam Hussein was hiding," the BBC says...

Because Musslit did not volunteer the information, he will not get the $25 million reward for Saddam's capture.
OF COURSE, HE'S FRENCH

You just can't make this stuff up...
A cigar-chomping French attorney who has represented a rogue's gallery of Nazis, serial killers and genocidal dictators said yesterday he's taking on a new client for "the trial of the century" - Saddam Hussein.

Jacques Verges, 79, told reporters he got a letter from one of Saddam's nephews telling him he had been chosen to represent the deposed Iraqi dictator.

He made clear he intends to try to turn the tables on his client's accusers by trying to put U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the stand.

U.S. officials say they will bring Saddam to justice for alleged crimes against the Iraqi people, but the time and date of the trial have yet to be set.

Saddam is being held by U.S. forces at a secret location.

"If I have to choose between defending the wolf or the dog, I choose the wolf, especially when he is bleeding," said the controversial Verges, who has been nicknamed The Devil's Advocate.
And then there is this perspective from the Iraqis.
Iraqis believe that plans by a French lawyer to take up the defence of Saddam Hussein after acting for a long list of unpopular clients highlights the "criminal" record of the former dictator.

Jacques Verges "has always defended gang leaders and Saddam is one of them," said Nureddin Dara, a Kurdish judge who is also a member of Iraq's US-installed interim Governing Council. "I don't think that his decision to defend Saddam will have any consequence on the trial," he said.
DETERMINATION
Her Olympic dreams were put on hold 24 years ago when Saddam Hussein's regime forced her to become a swimming coach and lifeguard at one of the dictator's presidential compounds. Now that Saddam is gone, Hamdiya Ahmed al-Sammak has taken up her athletic career again, training in the javelin throw five days a week despite daunting odds.

She won't say her age but is apparently in her early 50s. Al-Sammak is also blind in one eye and has a throwing arm that was broken in 1990 and never set properly.

She still holds the national women's record for the javelin and has won medals at home in swimming, running, equestrian, discus and hammer throw.
BAGHDAD BEAUTIFUL

When the local leadership has time to focus on projects such as these, I wonder, just how bad can it really be over there?
Based on recommendations from Baghdad?s elected advisory councils, CPA?s Baghdad Central office plans to disburse US$10,000,000 within the next three months for city beautification projects.

Eligible types of improvements can include:

- Creation and rehabilitation of city parks, rest areas, public squares, playgrounds, and recreation areas,
- Installation and repair of lighting to illuminate outdoor public places,
- Erecting sculptures and painting murals on approved locations,
- Landscaping public areas using plants, shrubs, flowers and grasses,
- Repair of sidewalks and footpaths which have significant damage...

?Baghdad Beautiful? funding is limited to the types of beautification projects listed above. Baghdad has tremendous needs for improved public works of all kinds, and these are being addressed through other programs. ?Baghdad Beautiful? projects are limited to above ground, readily visible projects, based on the principle of providing the greatest benefit to the largest number of people.

Work will begin as soon as projects have been identified and prioritized by the advisory councils and contracts have been approved. The 1st Armored Division will implement this program and play a central role in its success.
A SANE LOOK BACK

Mark Steyn recalls the "top ten quagmires of the week" from a year ago.
If it seems cruel to dredge them up, I do so because, the current ballyhoo from Democrats would make you think the administration policy in this area has been a disaster. It hasn't. Indeed, for 2½ years now, the naysayers to the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice approach to the war on terror have been close to 100 percent wrong on everything.

John Kerry, in his macho way, told Rolling Stone, apropos the Iraq war, that he never expected President Bush to f*** it up so much. In fact, Mr. Bush didn't asterisk it up at all. It's one of the least asterisked-up operations in history.

The freak-show left prancing around on the anniversary demonstrations is one thing, but sensible people of all persuasions ought to be able to give the administration real credit for it did in Iraq these last 12 months...

(2) "The head of the World Food Program has warned that Iraq could spiral into a massive humanitarian disaster." (The Australian, April 11, 2003)

One year on: No humanitarian disaster. Indeed, no "humanitarians."

The NGOs fled Iraq in August and nobody noticed, confirming what some of us have suspected since Afghanistan: The permanent floating crap game of the humanitarian lobby has a vastly inflated sense of its own importance and is prone to massive distortion in the cause of self-promotion.
This is a really good piece...go read it all.
MONDAY, MARCH 29th.

The 323d day.

And I send my thanks to those who have written in the last few days to share with me your joy and anticipation of my darling wife's scheduled return. It is an amazing thing to feel loved by strangers scattered around the globe.

I do thank you.

Some have asked what the future of the website will be once CPT Patti returns home. And my honest answer is that I don't know right now. After her brief visit over Christmas I was convinced that upon her return home I would stop doing this. But at this point I'm not certain. Indeed, things will change...but I'll just have to see how it goes.