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Daily Column
US Papers Tue: Female Bomber Strikes Green Zone
Iraq Ally Lists Were Altered, Study Shows
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/25/2008 01:58 AM ET
Today, there is news of casualties caused by explosions, the White House fudging the history of their list of the “Coalition of the Willing”, a general who speaks out about his own experience with PTSD, and an opinion on the status of forces agreement.

From Baghdad
Three deadly bombs hit Baghdad on Monday, killing 18, according to the New York Times, and at least 20, according to the Washington Post. The most deadly was caused by a magnetic “sticky bomb”, which was attached to a bus, carrying government employees. The other major bombing was set off by a female suicide bomber, at the entrance of the Green Zone where people enter to go to Parliament, where the U.S. security agreement is currently being debated. Later on Monday morning, a small bomb exploded on Al Sinaa Street in a mixed Sunni and Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing one and wounding five.

Abeer Mohammed and Mudhafer al-Husaini of the New York Times describe the bombing at the Green Zone entrance.
Several soldiers and policemen who witnessed the attack near the Green Zone said the suicide bomber had caught their attention well before the suicide belt she was wearing under her black trench coat exploded.

“We saw an attractive woman with long blond hair heading towards Checkpoint 3,” said a 37-year-old soldier who gave his name as Abu Amir, or father of Amir, referring to a major pedestrian entrance to the Green Zone. “She talked with my two friends Hasan and Ibrahim for about 15 minutes.

“I was looking at her, but I had to go back to my job behind the blast wall,” the soldier recalled. “I heard the bomb at 8:30 a.m., and when I hurried out to my two friends, they were dead.”

Blond hair is rare among Iraqis.

Suicide bombings by women have been on the rise, particularly over the last several months, Dr. Nawal al-Samarrai, Iraq’s minister of women’s affairs, said in a telephone interview. “In the last three months we’re really seeing an increase, mostly in Baghdad and Diyala,” Dr. Samarrai said. She added that early media reports of the Monday blast suggesting that the bomber was mentally handicapped were “a big lie.” “There is no evidence for this,” Dr. Samarrai continued. “These women are not crazy or mentally ill; they are hopeless. They hate life. They are women who have lost everything.”
The Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher tell of the bombing with the highest death toll.
In the deadliest attack, a magnetic bomb demolished a bus used by employees of the Ministry of Trade, killing 14 people and wounding seven, police said. Eight women were among the dead. The bomb, police said, was attached to the fuel tank of the bus, which erupted in flames.

Fuad Falih, a policeman guarding a checkpoint about 90 feet from the site of the explosion, said one of the victims was a pregnant woman. Hospital officials said many of the victims were incinerated in the bus.

"We have seen many victims of bombing before, but we never cried about them like this one," Falih said.
Thom Shankar of the New York Times reports that, before invading Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration mounted a significant diplomatic offensive to rally international support, and officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department went to great lengths to trumpet those nations that joined what they termed “the coalition of the willing,” but historians researching those early alliance-building efforts say they are troubled by what seem to be deletions of and alterations to the early official lists of nations that supported the war effort. The lists were posted on the White House Web site.
While administration officials acknowledged that the number of nations supporting the war changed over time, academic researchers say three official lists appear to have been changed, yet retained their original release date, making them appear to be unaltered originals.

Two other White House lists appear to have been taken off the Web site, according to a study of the documents by Scott L. Althaus and Kalev H. Leetaru of the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

There were 45 coalition members on the eve of the Iraq invasion, but subsequent deletions of the earlier lists and revisions to critical documents made it seem that there were 49, the researchers found. Two other countries that appeared on early lists of alliance partners were removed, but those updated rosters carried the original date and no mention that they had been changed. White House officials confirmed Monday that the names of two countries were removed from the list of coalition partners initially listed on the Web pages, an action taken at the request of those nations. Costa Rica and Angola were dropped, but Angola subsequently reappeared.

In recent years, the White House has adopted a policy that requires its official Web site to note when such changes are made to an online item, a spokesman said Monday. But that appears not to have been in effect for posts released early in the war effort.
Tom Vanden Brook of USA Today writes about U.S. Gen. Carter Ham, and the problem of post-traumatic stress syndrome which faces thousands of soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was serving in Mosul on Dec. 21, 2004, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mess hall at a U.S. military base, killing 22 people, including 14 U.S. troops. Ham arrived at the scene 20 minutes later to find the devastation.

"When he came back, all of him didn't come back. ... Pieces of him the way he used to be were perhaps left back there," says his wife, Christi. "I didn't get the whole guy I'd sent away."

Today, Ham, 56, is one of only 12 four-star generals in the Army. He commands all U.S. soldiers in Europe. The stress of his combat service could have derailed his career, but Ham says he realized that he needed help transitioning from life on the battlefields of Iraq to the halls of power at the Pentagon. So he sought screening for post-traumatic stress and got counseling from a chaplain. That helped him "get realigned," he says.

"You need somebody to assure you that it's not abnormal," Ham says. "It's not abnormal to have difficulty sleeping. It's not abnormal to be jumpy at loud sounds. It's not abnormal to find yourself with mood swings at seemingly trivial matters. More than anything else, just to be able to say that out loud."
The willingness of Ham, one of the military's top officers, to speak candidly with USA Today for the first time about post-traumatic stress represents a tectonic shift for a military system in which seeking such help has long been seen as a sign of weakness. It's also a recognition of the seriousness of combat stress, which can often worsen to become post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ham is one of as many as 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans who have suffered from combat stress, according to a study by the RAND Corp. From 5% to 20% of the 1.8 million troops who have served there will have some symptoms, says Rear Adm. David Smith, Joint staff surgeon. The problems range from loss of sleep to homelessness and suicide.

...Ham says he began to acknowledge his symptoms during a session set up by Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the former head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, for senior leaders. Dubik wanted the top commissioned and non-commissioned officers to speak openly about the stress. Not everybody got on board, Ham says. Military tradition doesn't easily tolerate talk of vulnerability.
"There were a couple folks who said, ... 'I don't need this,' " Ham says. " 'I'm a tough airborne Ranger infantryman, just get on with life.' Those, frankly, are the guys that I worry about. There clearly is a part of Army culture that says, 'Tough it out. You just work your way through it.' That's clearly where I thought I was. I didn't think I needed anybody to help me. It took the love of my life to say, 'You need to talk to somebody.' I'm glad that she did that, and I think she's glad that I did that."

The editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor calls on the Iraqi parliament to pass the pending security pact with the United States. It is from the perspective of those most interested in American presidential election politics, but mentions the normal Iraq-based points – progress of Iraqi security forces, upcoming provincial elections, and sectarianism.
...if the pact is approved, it will signify that Iraq is on an equal footing with the US, claiming sovereignty, independence, and a clear rejection of terrorism.

While this rebirth may not ring with historic drama as a decisive military battle might, it signals the blossoming of a religiously tolerant and democratic Muslim state in a region that could use such a model of "soft power." For that, the US effort may have been worth it despite post-invasion mistakes.

If he manages the withdrawal schedule well, Obama might even claim some of the credit for a reborn Iraq, free of dictatorship.

For now, however, it is Iraqis who must act by approving this agreement with the US.

Wall Street Journal, no Iraq coverage.


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