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Daily Column
US Papers Fri: GI Alcohol Abuse Soars
War Funding Bill Passes Senate, Hard Times for Iraqi Refugees in US
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/19/2009 02:00 AM ET
The Iraq news today is based back home in the states, with nothing filed from Iraq – but with all the papers we include in the roundup offering something. Coverage includes the war-funding bill now set for President Obama’s desk, problems adjusting for both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi refugees, and even comedy news shows about Iraq can’t get ratings.

Gregg Zoroya of USA Today reports that the rate of Army soldiers enrolled in treatment programs for alcohol dependency or abuse has nearly doubled since 2003, what he calls “a sign of the growing stress of repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army statistics and interviews.” Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the paper, "I'm sure there are many factors for the rising numbers (of enrollments) ... but I can't believe the stress our people are under after eight years of combat isn't taking a toll." Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, told a pentagon briefing, “We're seeing a lot of alcohol consumption."

Though known drug abuse percentages haven’t increased substantially, writes Zaroya, soldiers diagnosed by Army substance abuse counselors with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, such as binge drinking, increased from 6.1 per 1,000 soldiers in 2003 to an estimated 11.4 as of March 31. Duration of deployment and active wars since 2001 are cited as mitigating factors.
He said identifying and treating substance and alcohol abuse will help improve the Army's mental health care and curb suicides, which reached a record 142 cases in 2008. There have been 82 confirmed or suspected suicides this year among active-duty, compared with 51 for the same period in 2008.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Patrik Jonsson and Kristen Chick cover American streets being found not to be paved with sometimes-promised gold for thousands of Iraqi refugees entering America's resettlement program. They write that “only 11 percent are finding work this year, compared with 80 percent two years ago. Many are frustrated as benefits dwindle, cash runs out, and eviction notices pile up.” In the past three years, 25,659 Iraqi refugees have arrived, and nonprofit resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are urging this week an overhaul of America's three-decade-old refugee policy.
Refugees "never imagined that they would be struggling to survive here in America," says Alaa Naji, a refugee from Baghdad who now works in Atlanta for the IRC. "They expected more from a country that was involved in the violence that destroyed our land, homes, and loved ones."

...Some argue that US officials have oversold refugees' prospects. "You'll see there's a universal theme to complaints, which is that they were told they were going to have a great life, and they're completely shocked when they're given jobs like washing cars," says Ann Corcoran, a Washington County, Md., farmer who runs a critical blog, Refugee Resettlement Watch.
"We came here because we had no safety or security because of the US war in Iraq," said one refugee. "But we didn't think people were allowed to live like this in America.... If we could go back to Iraq, we would."

War Funding
On Thursday, the Senate approved the $106 billion war-funding bill with much less ado than its friends in the House did earlier in the week. All but three Republicans voted in favor of the bill, resulting in a 91-5 tally.

As Bernie Becker in the New York Times points out the following, in the article with the most and clearest information.
The support by Republicans stood in stark contrast to their counterparts in the House, where all but five Republicans voted against the bill. The division signaled continuing disarray within the party more than six months after it suffered steep losses in the November elections. Still, Republican support in the Senate did not come easy, and party members nearly succeeded in blocking the measure on a procedural motion that left Democrats scrambling for votes.
The Wall Street Journal’s Corey Boles and Josh Mitchell and Kendra Marr of the Washington Post both hardly mention that war funding is even involved in the bill, and focus on the "cash for clunkers" car trade-in voucher program attached to the bill.

Iraq on TV
The Colbert Report broadcasts taped in Baghdad last week as a USO event wasn’t able to get much better ratings than the real news coming from here, as reported by Lisa de Morales in the Washington Post.
According to Nielsen, about 1.4 million people watched Colbert from Iraq last week. That is fewer viewers than he had the last time his show was live. Colbert's visit to Iraq also seems to have sent some of his younger fans fleeing. The median age of his audience last week was 40. The same week a year ago, it was 33.9.
Colbert should be given points, though, for emulating WWII-era Bob Hope radio broadcasts, even if it isn’t popular, and even if the broadcasts were somewhat gimmicky (as reported by a member of the seldom-used Iraqslogger network in New Haven, CT - who chose to remain anonymous, for security reasons).

One problem might have been that, though they finally relented and let some journalists here in Baghdad attend the broadcasts, the US military (or perhaps Comedy Central) made it very difficult for the media to cover it, for some reason.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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