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Daily Column
US Papers Monday: "Give Me My Sanity"
Devastating Look at PTSD in Walter Reed; UNMOVIC's Idle Inspectors
By GREG HOADLEY 06/18/2007 01:58 AM ET
Iraq-datelined reporting is dwarfed again by the Post’s continuing series on Walter Reed Hospital, the most recent installments of which have featured veterans struggling with post-combat mental health disorders, and the inadequate US system for treating their needs. Today’s filing looks at the grievous story of a young man facing PTSD after a year in Iraq, and recounting the different ways the system has failed him.

No single development dominates Iraq-datelined writing, with the Post featuring political disagreements among high-level Iraqi politicians over the latest US policy twist of arming Sunni Arab militants to fight al-Qa'ida, and the Times leading its Iraq reporting with the kidnapping death of an editor for the major government-run newspaper.

Elsewhere, be sure to check out Walter Pincus’s short presentation of the sums paid by the US military to Iraqi victims of US forces, and have a look in the Times for the latest in the ongoing saga of those underutilized experts known as UNMOVIC, all dressed up with no place to inspect.

In the Times, Alissa Rubin leads her roundup of the day’s violence in Iraq with the murder of Falieh Mijthab, the political editor of al-Sabah who was kidnapped three days ago on the way to his work. Mithjab’s body was identified Sunday in a Baghdad morgue. Though al-Sabah is known as a pro-government daily, Falah al-Mishaal, the chief editor of the paper suggested that Mithjab’s work in state-run journalism under the Ba'thist regime may have led to his assassination. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mithjab is the 146th journalist or media worker killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. The second-ranking US commander in Iraq told the AP on Sunday that only approximately 40% of the capital was under security forces control. US forces were moving into new areas, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said, including the southeast of the city and areas just south of the capital’s borders that are said to be al-Qa'ida strongholds, part of a US campaign announced Saturday by Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, to move US forces into suburban areas around Baghdad, thought to be centers of logistical support activity for militants operating in the capital. US Amb. Ryan Crocker told “Meet the Press” that the Parliament would take up the draft oil law in the next few days. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met the Turkish ambassador to Iraq

Iraqi MPs are divided over the new American strategy to support Sunni Arab militants against al-Qa'ida, Joshua Partlow writes in the Post. Several high-level lawmakers in the Kurdish and Shi'a blocs expressed unease or outright opposition to the newly articulated US policy. Some predicted blowback: “"They take arms, they take money, and in the future they will be a problem. Politically, they are still against the Americans and the Iraqi government," said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish MP. PM Maliki has expressed reservation about the idea, and a top aide to the PM said the Iraqi government would accept the US policy if those who receive support are not opposed to the process and are “recruited in a systematic way to ensure that they are not using their newly official status for nefarious purposes,” Partlow writes. A car bomb killed four, including two Iraqi soldiers, in Baiji, and a suicide bomber in Falluja killed at least six. Three US soldiers were killed on Saturday, two in Baghdad and one in Kirkuk province. US forces killed 10 “suspected insurgents” and arrested 20 others.

The Post’s duo of Anne Hull and Dana Priest continue their unflinching look at Walter Reed Hospital, which began four months ago in their investigative reports on outpatient care in the Army’s top medical facility. Continuing their chapter on the hospital’s mental health care, which opened yesterday in another front-pager, the two reporters trace the harrowing story of Pfc. Joshua Calloway, a 20-year old infantryman suffering from PTSD after deployment in Iraq. The article, which merits a full read, interweaves an insightful description of Calloway’s condition with an indictment of the military’s inadequate mental care system which has failed Calloway and thousands others. Calloway lasted nine months in Iraq, “until the afternoon he watched his sergeant step on a pressure-plate bomb in the road. The young soldier's knees buckled and he vomited in the reeds before he was ordered to help collect body parts.” He was sent home, mentally broken down, and wound up in Walter Reed’s Ward 53, which focuses on all mental illnesses. "I can't remember who I was before I went into the Army," he said. While the hospital is building a new top-of-the-line facility for amputees, “nothing so gleaming exists for soldiers with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, who in the Army alone outnumber all of the war's amputees by 43 to 1. The Army has no PTSD center at Walter Reed, and its psychiatric treatment is weak compared with the best PTSD programs the government offers. Instead of receiving focused attention, soldiers with combat-stress disorders are mixed in with psych patients who have issues ranging from schizophrenia to marital strife.” Short staffing, inappropriate therapy, and bureaucratic turf wars also lower the quality of care the PTSD victims receive. As one PTSD patient said, referring to the military’ s new investment in amputee care: "We are handicapped patients, too. Cut off both my legs, but give me my sanity. You can't get a prosthesis for that." Read the whole thing.

Walter Pincus, national security and intel writer for the Post scoped out a CRS report on the payments offered by US and Coalition forces to Iraqi civilians and their families for compensation for deaths or injuries, or property loss or damage. $2,500 is the highest amount payable under the military’s “solatia” payments program, for either loss of life or property. "Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in CERP condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage)," the report explains. The “solatia” system, which offers payments without an admission of US guilt or wrongdoing, contrasts somewhat with Foreign Claims Act procedures, which covers noncombat loss of life or property. As one ex-Army judge advocate wrote "the full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."

In other coverage:


The writing is on the wall for UNMOVIC, Nicholas Kulish writes in the Times. Once at the center of the pre-war WMD controversy, the UN agency commissioned to inspect Iraq for WMDs appears close to disbanding, after the US and UK floated proposals to dissolve the agency. The vast archives of the organization will be a sensitive matter, Kulish writes, containing as they do the formulas to sensitive weapons programs. As for the UNMOVIC endgame, “The uncertainty now, diplomats here say, is Russia. The Russian delegation has said that it is the United Nations’ responsibility, not the United States-led coalition’s, to certify that Iraq is in compliance with United Nations resolutions prohibiting the country from possessing unconventional weapons.” Those interested will want to see the Post’s article on the group published some weeks ago.


The top US military and diplomatic officials did the talk shows this weekend, Karen DeYoung writes in the Post. Gen. Petraeus told “Fox News Sunday” that he did not expect September to show gains that would justify the end of the US “surge” in Iraq, and hinted at “heavy lifting” in Iraq that could last years. “Asserting steady, albeit slow, military and political progress, Petraeus said that the ‘many, many challenges’ would not be resolved “in a year or even two years’,” DeYoung writes. Amb. Crocker also presented a “mixed” view of US progress, during his appearance on “Meet the Press.”

James Gilmore III, GOP candidate for president, contributes an op-ed to the Post in the form of an open letter to President Bush. “I urge that we define our goals in terms of America's national interest, and let the people of Iraq take care of their national interests. The United States has a stake in preventing a government from emerging that is expressly hostile to us, such as in a coup inspired by al-Qaeda. The United States has a stake in not permitting the invasion and occupation of Iraq by any of its neighbors. This can be done through a military assistance program and diplomatic initiative. Beyond this, the responsibility for peace and order of the country rests with the Iraqi government, which can make a specific request to the United States for assistance like any other country of the world,” Gilmore writes. Gilmore’s op-ed suggests that the Iraqi government created under US auspices after the invasion of 2003 will be a key trope in GOP candidates’ efforts to distance themselves from president Bush without openly breaking with him.


No Iraq coverage today.


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