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Daily Column
US Papers Thur: Concern Over US-Run Iraqi Jails
Dead marine is refused Medal of Honor: Tough decision for US on Iran dissidents
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/18/2008 02:01 AM ET
There are two stories today dealing with the high number of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. Also reported on are conflicting numbers of death tolls(as always), a U.S. marine who many feel is being cheated out of a posthumous Medal of Honor, three U.S. soldiers charged in the death of Iraqi civilians, Iranian dissidents within Iraq’s borders, and the sanctions which are designed to keep international countries from supplying sophisticated weapons-technology to Iran which some say ends up in Iraq.

From Washington, Gordon Lubold of the Christian Science Monitor covers the rising concerns over the roughly 19,000 Iraqi prisoners in U.S.-run jails in Iraq. By year’s end, the number is expected to decrease to just over 15,000 prisoners, but it makes for difficult decisions on whether to turn them over to Iraqi custody, let many of them go, or neither, or both.
Last year, during the height of the "surge" of US troops, the United States held as many as 26,000 suspected insurgents. As security improved, commanders had hoped to whittle down the number of detainees, most of them Sunni, by reintegrating only the least dangerous individuals back into Iraqi society and leaving Iraq with a smaller group to manage. But the detainee population remains large, testing the resolve of Iraq's Shiite-led government to prepare to manage the detainees on its own by committing to fair treatment and due process.
Though the system has reportedly come a very long way since the days of the Abu Ghraib scandal, much is still left to be done. "We need to get these people moving through, and there is a hold-up in the process," says a senior uniformed official familiar with the issue. "There is a challenge to work through here."
The US holds detainees at Camp Cropper near Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The facilities combined currently have about 18,900 detainees, a population that includes "very dangerous and determined people," according to a US military official in Iraq. But the camps also hold thousands of moderates who don't necessarily adhere to an extreme ideology but were caught up in the insurgency, perhaps placing roadside bombs just for the money. Last year, the US worked to separate the extremists from the moderates, implemented new family visitation programs, and began giving each detainee a formal review, with the intent of releasing as many people as possible. American military officials want to ensure that their program of detainee "care and respect" will be continued once the Iraqis take over detainee supervision, as US forces draw down.
For the Wall Street JournalYochi J. Dreazen reports from Baghdad on the efforts to deal with the problem by an effort to rehabilitate as many of the detainees as possible. "The idea is to move from punishment to rehabilitation," said Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, one of the officers leading the push. "It's not enough to simply lock these guys up and hope they somehow turn into productive members of Iraqi society." What everyone is afraid of is that, when prisoners are released, many of them who are suspected of insurgent activity, that there will be no reason for them not to join back up with insurgent groups.
The effort, centered in Baghdad and Basra, includes courses in literacy, mathematics and moderate Islamic thought. The military hopes the courses will temper the detainees' religious beliefs and give them the skills to find and hold a steady job... Few in the military question the need for the rehabilitation effort, but some wonder whether troops should be leading it. Some officers privately complain the program is turning them into social workers who coddle violent extremists. But few are willing to voice those criticisms because the effort is a favored project of Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus believes the country's stability will be shaped by how well former insurgents are integrated back into Iraqi society. He sees the rehabilitation push as a powerful weapon in that fight.
"I'm hopeful that what the detainees learned in the program will moderate their religious extremism," said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, who commands U.S. forces in northern Iraq. "Will some go back to their old habits? Probably."
The program grew out of an American realization that the U.S. wouldn't be able to hold most of the detainees much longer. The thousands of Iraqis in American custody are a major source of public anger, and politicians regularly demand that the U.S. release the detainees or transfer them to Iraqi control. This year, more than 12,000 detainees have been released. Maj. Jay Gardner, the executive officer for Task Force al-Amal, which runs the rehabilitation effort, said the military believes that some detainees would need to be held for the long term, while others "simply made bad choices" and could be freed, he said. "The thin line we have to walk is figuring out which is which."
The article goes into a fair amount of detail, and is worth reading.

From Baghdad
Sam Dagher of the New York Times covers the conflicting death tolls in the continued bombings in Baghdad. According to an official at Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, eight people were killed and 25 wounded Wednesday in double bombings in a busy section of central Baghdad filled with currency exchange shops and medical clinics. The U.S. military put the toll at three killed and 16 wounded, and a source at Yarmouk Hospital, where some of the casualties were taken, gave a toll of five killed and 20 wounded. Dagher points out that discrepancies in death tolls are common in Iraq. “The security improvement is just in the media, it has nothing to do with reality,” said Ali Mahmoud, a grocery shop owner caught up in the bombings.
The first bomb exploded about 11:20 a.m., in an area called Al Harthiya, adjacent to the fortified Green Zone. Several witnesses said it appeared to have been placed in a pickup truck that belonged to Raad al-Maliki, a former member of the local municipal council and owner of one of the money changing businesses that dot the area. Mr. Maliki, who was inside his shop at the time, survived. Almost five minutes after the first blast, a second bomb exploded about 300 feet away, next to a kiosk that sells cigarettes and soft drinks. Iraqi and American soldiers cordoned off the area and cut off traffic on one of the capital’s most congested thoroughfares, known as the Baghdad International Expo Street. Smashed storefronts, burned vehicle remains and scattered debris were reminiscent of scenes that Baghdad residents have been anxious to forget.
There were also two separate bombings in Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood and five American soldiers were killed when their helicopter made a “hard landing” about 60 miles west of the southern city of Basra. Dagher also mentions violence in Kirkuk, when a minibus was attacked by gunmen, and the continued difficulties with passing a new provincial elections law.

Military Matters
Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that a rare decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to reject a Marine Corps recommendation that one of its heroes receive the Medal of Honor has angered Marines who say Sgt. Rafael Peralta sacrificed his life to save theirs. For his actions during a Nov. 15, 2004, firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, Peralta will receive the Navy Cross, the service's second-highest award for valor. The citation said Peralta, 25, covered a live grenade thrown by insurgents. "I don't want that medal," Peralta's mother, Rosa, said Wednesday. "I won't accept it. It doesn't seem fair to me."
A Gates-appointed panel unanimously concluded that the report on Peralta's action did not meet the standard of "no margin of doubt or possibility of error," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The argument about whether to award Peralta the nation's highest military honor centers on whether a mortally wounded Marine could have intentionally reached for the grenade after suffering a serious head wound... The decision is "almost like somebody called me a liar," said Marine Sgt. Nicholas Jones, 25, who was with Peralta that day. Jones, a recruiter, said Peralta's actions have become part of Marine Corps lore, as drill sergeants and officer-candidate instructors repeat it to new Marines. "His name is definitely synonymous with valor," said Jones, who was wounded by the grenade blast. "I know for a fact that I would have been killed ... and that my daughter, Sophia, our new baby, Sienna, would not be here or coming into the world. And that my son, Noah, would have grown up without knowing his dad," said Robert Reynolds, 31, a corrections officer and former Marine who was with Peralta that day. In a Marine Corps investigation of the attack, Natonski said, "I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the gravely wounded Peralta covered the grenade.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn reports that three U.S. soldiers have been charged with killing four captured Iraqis who were allegedly taken to a canal near Baghdad last year and shot in retaliation for American casualties, according to an Army statement yesterday and earlier testimony in the case. Sgt. John E. Hatley, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr., who were part of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd "Dagger" Brigade, were charged with premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and obstruction of justice. Four other soldiers from the unit were charged earlier with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder. The Iraqis were killed in March or April 2007, according to the Army statement. The incident first surfaced in January when one of the four soldiers approached an Army lawyer.
Cunningham and Quigley appeared at a preliminary hearing in August in Germany, and an Army criminal investigator testified that Cunningham first provided an account of the incident to an Army lawyer. "He was tired of holding it back," the investigator testified, according to a report in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. The killings took place after a gun battle with insurgents. In a statement, Cunningham identified the shooters and named 14 soldiers who were in the area when the killings occurred, according to testimony at the August hearing. Attorneys for Cunningham and Quigley said the two were some distance from the site of the killings. After the shootings, Hatley allegedly told soldiers in the unit not to talk about what had happened, according to witness testimony. And the soldiers maintained silence until Cunningham came forward in January. Hatley and Leahy have also been charged with one count each of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder in a death near Baghdad in January 2007. The Army statement provided no details about that killing except to describe it as a separate incident. Leahy was also charged with being an accessory after the fact.
John Hughes from the Christian Science Monitor covers the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), the 38,000 strong dissident group who once mounted military operations against the Tehran regime from sanctuary in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They have been disarmed and placed under the protection of American forces since the US invasion of Iraq. They are a sticking point between the Americans and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is putting on pressure to have them deported back to Iran, where they could likely face torture or death.
To hand over the Mujahideen to a cruel fate at the hands of Iran would probably cause an outcry among the American public, and in the US Congress, where the former Iranian fighters have substantial support. Indeed, they are credited by US sources with having provided earlier accurate information about clandestine Iranian nuclear facilities. But not to accede to Tehran's demand to hand them over could hinder any broader negotiations for less tension in the US-Iran relationship. Refugee status in the US might seem an obvious solution to the problem. But in another bizarre twist, the Iranian Mujahideen members, who are considered "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention by US forces in their "Camp Ashraf" north of Baghdad, are actually listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. They allegedly supported the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. British courts and the European Court of Justice have ordered that the PMOI be removed from their respective lists of proscribed organizations.
As Hughes writes, “It is a decision that pits principle, humanitarianism, and national self-interest against one another. “

The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez reports that federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed charges against alleged members of a global network procuring potentially sensitive electronic components for Iran -- including some, they said, that were used to make deadly roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq. Iraqis who have been killed by them aren’t mentioned.
The grand jury indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, charged eight companies and eight people, including Iranian, Malaysian and British nationals, with violating the U.S. embargo that restricts export of certain goods with dual commercial and military uses to Iran. All the individuals involved are believed to be residing outside the U.S., including in Britain and Dubai. U.S. prosecutors charged a global network with procuring electronic components for Iran, some of which were used in making roadside bombs in Iraq like the improvised explosive device that damaged this Humvee. U.S. officials have warned for years that American-made equipment illegally exported to Iran could be aiding insurgents who kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Among the equipment listed are hundreds of global-positioning-system devices and 12,000 Microchip micro-controllers, which have been identified in the manufacture of IEDs, according to prosecutors.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, Minister of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government writes a letter to the editors of the Washington Post, regarding Amit R. Paley’s Sept. 13 front-page story "Strip of Iraq 'on the Verge of Exploding' ".
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its pesh merga forces are not seeking control of the city of Khanaqin. More than 90 percent of the residents of Khanaqin are Kurdish, and the city was peaceful until Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent Iraqi military forces there last month in an unwelcome and unnecessary provocation that sparked demonstrations by tens of thousands of residents. ...The KRG is fully committed to a peaceful, democratic and federal Iraq, but we reject such intimidation from the prime minister. Furthermore, we are becoming alarmed at the increasingly threatening nationalist rhetoric that some Iraqi Arab parties have directed at the Kurds, which brings back memories of the approach of previous Iraqi governments to the Kurds.
As always, there are heightened emotions on this issue. There is, of course, good reason for this, but it doesn’t give one the feeling that anybody has much negotiating in mind. Read Paley’s original article here.

Thane Rosenbaum, a novelist, essayist and law professor at Fordham University, writes an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal called ”Victory is an Orphan in Iraq”. He begins by noting the security gains in Iraq. “Yet,” he writes...

...instead of rejoicing and a ticker-tape parade, our political leaders and opinion makers speak of immediate timetables for the contraction and withdrawal of our troops, the counting of our losses and the atonement for our sins. Few speak of the war with any sense of pride or patriotism. Never before has a nation so distanced itself from a military triumph. There is an overarching taboo associated with any acknowledgment that it may have benefited Iraqis and Americans. Buried beneath the mosh pit of President Bush's declining approval ratings, Iraq remains a continuing source of shame.
Not too much to say about this one. Your political leanings (and definition of "military triumph") will decide what you think of it before you get through the first sentence.

Bing West adds to the many positive reviews of veteran journalist Dexter Filkins’ book about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, “The Forever War”. He calls it “splendid”, and says that “Filkins's singular skill in this book rests in showing how war shatters lives and how some people manage to survive amid fear, violence, intrigue and chaos.” On the other hand, he also writes “In many of these stories, Filkins depicts loss and grief uncompensated by accomplishment. To him, it seems, war is sound and fury, signifying nothing except pathos and irony.” Still, the book is given very good grades overall.


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