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Archive: March 2007
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Life Goes On
Marine Corps Puts Limits on How Much Ink Jarheads Can Carry
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 03/31/2007 2:06 PM ET
Marine Forward Recon in Nasiriyah
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Marine Forward Recon in Nasiriyah

AP writer Tom Watkins has been getting good pick up with his story about the Marines banning large tattoos.

Tattoos and Marines are like well...Marines and tattoos. Culturally inseparable as "semper fi" and "USMC" to the Corps. Tattoos are epidermal proof of battles, lost comrades and a constant reminder of service and duty. In a world where 12 year olds have tattoos of butterflies, the Marines are one of the last real bastions of reality in ink. Carrying forward an ancient tradition of sailors and warriors of indelibly documenting their experiences on themselves.

But times are changing and the knuckle dragging Marines have been forced to catch up (try at least) with the other services when it comes to tribal finery..or the lack thereof. As of Sunday no more large tattoos. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway delivered the bad news;

"Some Marines have taken the liberty of tattooing themselves to a point that is contrary to our professional demeanor and the high standards America has come to expect from us," he said. "I believe tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values."

The ban is aimed primarily at "sleeve" tattoos, the large and often elaborate designs on the biceps and forearms of many Marines. Similar designs on the lower legs will be forbidden as well. So will very large tattoos on the upper arm, if they are visible when a Marine wears his workout T-shirt. Small, individual tattoos will still be allowed on the arms and legs. (The Marines already ban them on the hands.)

Watkin's entertaining story goes on to explain that
Marines already tattooed are exempt from the ban but cannot add to their designs; anyone caught with fresh ink in the wrong places could be barred from re-enlistment or face disciplinary action. Getting a prohibited tattoo could constitute a violation of a lawful order, punishable by up to two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Brian Donnelly said.

Unit commanders must photograph and document sleeve tattoos to ensure Marines do not add to their ink.

The other branches of the armed forces have tighter rules on ink but yet another military tradition begins to fade. Check out a collection of tattoos at Sgt Grunt

Marine Shows Off His Tattoo in AL-Qaim
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Marine Shows Off His Tattoo in AL-Qaim

Fleeing Iraq
Over 30,000 Already Granted Asylum, Compared to 466 in US
03/30/2007 3:51 PM ET
The Dutch government announced Friday that it would make it easier for Iraqi asylum seekers to enter the Netherlands, increasing pressure on the U.S. to take in more Iraqis whose lives are at threat for assisting coalition forces.

The new Dutch policy will shorten the time it takes to grant temporary residency to asylum seekers to less than the usual six months, Reuters reports. The Dutch government approved the policy based on an analysis of the security situation in central and southern Iraq.

Earlier this year, the Netherlands, a country of 16 million known in Europe for its stringent immigration laws, allowed about 30,000 failed asylum seekers to remain in the country.

By comparison, between 2003 and 2006, the U.S. resettled a total of 466 Iraqi refugees in the country. The White House said in February that it would admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees who have already fled to neighboring countries by the end of September.

In addition, current U.S. legislation grants a maximum of 50 Special Immigrant Visas per year to Iraqis who have worked as translators in the war, though at a House of Representatives hearing last Monday, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey said that the White House was discussing a "vast" increase in the number of Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis to 500 a year.

Iraqi translators and other civilians working for the Department of Defense are under constant threat from insurgents seeking to destroy cooperation between Iraqis and U.S. forces. Earlier this month, gunmen killed two Iraqi sisters working as translators for the British army, a day after attackers disguised as police killed two American coalition officials and their translator in southern Iraq, CBS/AP reports.

Last week, the New Yorker and Mother Jones ran lengthy pieces highlighting the desperate plight of former Iraqi employees of the US government or contractors, who are fleeing their country in large numbers under the threat of death because they've been branded "collaborators."

According to the latest numbers from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Syria is hosting 1.2 million displaced Iraqis, and Jordan has between 500,00 and 750,000. Egypt has taken in around 120,000 refugees, and another 200,000 are scattered throughout other countries in the region. Lebanon has recovered from its own refugee crisis during last summer's conflict with Israel, and is home to 20,000 Iraqis fleeing the war.

The UNHCR announced this week that it is considering building refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to relieve the burden of housing and feeding so many homeless and jobless Iraqis, and will host a conference in Geneva April 17-18 focusing on the plight of the refugees.

Eye on Congress
Dems Set for Showdown With White House Veto
03/29/2007 11:14 AM ET
WASHINGTON - MARCH 29: President George W. Bush, flanked by members of the House Republican Conference, makes a statement on the North Portico of the White House March 29, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Pool/Getty
WASHINGTON - MARCH 29: President George W. Bush, flanked by members of the House Republican Conference, makes a statement on the North Portico of the White House March 29, 2007 in Washington, DC.

The Senate today passed the $121.7 billion defense spending bill 51-47, advancing its provision that would require phased troop withdrawals to begin within 120 days of its enactment, with an aim to have all non-essential security personnal pulled out by March 31, 2008.

The passage of the measure sets the stage for a Democratic confrontation with President Bush, who has threatened to veto any bill that sets a timetable.

President Bush gathered Republican senators in the West Wing this morning for a pep session and to reiterate his plans for the veto. Gethering on the lawn for a press briefing after the meeting, Bush said, "We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got a troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded."

Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and two Republicans, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel and Oregon's Gordon Smith joined 48 Democrats in voting for the measure. Forty-six Republicans and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) voted against it. Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) did not vote.

"We've spoken the words the American people wanted us to speak," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters. "There must be a change of direction in the war in Iraq, the civil war in Iraq."

The House of Representatives passed a similar measure last week, and both Chambers hope to complete negotiations to prepare a compromise version for Bush's review by April 16.

Commentary
Representatives Would Help Soldiers Face VA Bureaucracy
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/27/2007 2:28 PM ET
WASHINGTON - MARCH 27: Retired Army Capt. Jonathan Pruden, wounded in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, listens to Senators make opening statements during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing March 27, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty
WASHINGTON - MARCH 27: Retired Army Capt. Jonathan Pruden, wounded in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, listens to Senators make opening statements during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing March 27, 2007 in Washington, DC.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs today, OIF veteran Jonathan Pruden offered the most logically simple idea I have yet heard that would have the greatest positive impact on improving the care of returning veterans--soldier advocates.

In the hearing on "DOD/VA Collaboration and Cooperation to Meet the Health Care Needs of Returning Servicemembers," Pruden used examples of soldiers he has known to show how different obstacles--all of which could be overcome with the assistance of an advocate--led to the unnecessary suffering.

The military provides legal representation to soldiers when they have reason to enter the penal system, and it makes perfect sense that an injured soldier could use a different kind of representation to help negotiate the complicated bureaucracy of the healthcare system. When a veteran's future mobility, sight, hearing, or sanity is at risk, the stakes are no less high than if he/she is facing a term in the brig.

Advocates would know all the proper procedures, how to file paperwork, how to follow-up, who to call if there is a problem, etc., so it would save each individual soldier the overwhelming trouble of detangling the VA system. Further, it would save VA manpower time because they would not have to field the queries of thousands of confused soldiers and military family members.

A selection of Pruden's statement before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is below.

In Need of an Advocate



I’ve found that soldiers will often “suck it up” and not complain about challenges they face or seek the help they need. At times they are stymied by on overly complex system that can be challenging to negotiate even without mental and physical obstacles created by their wounds or medications. The following cases are a few examples of issues faced by men I’ve worked with.

• I caught one of my men dragging his nerve damaged foot and asked him why he wasn’t wearing a much needed Ankle-foot orthosis (AFO). He told me that the Sergeant at the orthopedics clinic didn’t have one in his size.

• One if my old Scout’s was seriously wounded and his entire squad was Killed in Action (KIA) or Wounded In Action (WIA). He denied having any PTSD and believed those who claimed to have it were faking. Meanwhile he was consuming ever greater quantities of alcohol and was having trouble controlling his anger.

• Another soldier; a bilateral amputee, was rendered unconscious for an undetermined amount of time by a blast that killed the driver of his vehicle and grievously wounded the other occupant. His mother reported he has great difficulty remembering things but he was not screened for a TBI in nearly two years by DOD. This is likely because his TBI symptoms were masked by symptoms of significant PTSD and substance abuse.

There was no reason for these men to suffer. In each of cases resources were available and could have been used to help these men. Often problems arise, not because of a lack of resources, but a lack of information. These soldiers all needed more information and an advocate to ensure they received the services they needed.

Diplomatic Buzz
If "Vast" Means 500 of the Thousands of Refugees Who've Worked for US
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/26/2007 6:49 PM ET
The United States is "working to identify the best way" to address the thorny problem of assisting Iraqis who are under threat inside the country or stateless refugee abroad because they have worked with Americans during the war, but that didn't seem good enough for Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) during his House Foreign Affairs committee hearing Iraqi Volunteers, Iraqi Refugees: What Is America's Obligation?.

Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for poulation, refugees, and migration, said during her opening statement in front of the committee:

"We also recognize the dangers that certain individuals in Iraq might face due to their association with the United States.... Existing legislation created a program that allows Special Immigrant Visas for up to 50 Department of Defense translators per year. The Administration is currently working to identify the best way to broaden our existing authorities to address such situations involving local staff."

While questioning Sauerbrey, Ackerman, chairman of the subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, asked about solving the problem by expanding the number of allowed Special Immigrant Visas.

Sauerbrey said that discussions were underway, and plans had already been laid to do just that.

Ackerman pressed Sauerbrey to give an idea of how significantly the proposal under discussion would expand the acceptance of Iraqis, to which Sauerbrey responded that the US intends to "vastly increase" the issuance of Specialist Immigrant Visas.

When pressed further, Saurbrey defined the proposed "vast" increase as being in the realm of 500 per year.

The Chairman couldn't restrain a muffled grumble about that not sounding very vast before moving on to his next topic.

Considering that tens of thousands of Iraqis have worked for Coalition forces, the State Department, or the numerous corporations who operated under US contracts, and that millions of Iraqis are either internally displaced or refugees in a foreign country, increasing Specialist Immigrant Visas to 500 sounds like the moral and intellectual equivalent of proposing a "surge" of only a few dozen troops.

The Bush Plan
Restates Threat to Veto Measure if It Gets to His Desk
03/23/2007 3:44 PM ET
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

THE PRESIDENT: Today I'm joined here at the White House by veterans, family members of people serving in combat, family members of those who have sacrificed. I am honored that they have joined me here today.

Here in Washington, members of both parties recognize that our most solemn responsibility is to support our troops in the war on terror. Yet, today, a narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law, and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job.

The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq. They set rigid restrictions that will require an army of lawyers to interpret. They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal without regard for conditions on the ground. And they tacked on billions for pet projects that have nothing to do with winning the war on terror. This bill has too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.

As I have made clear for weeks, I will veto it if it comes to my desk. And because the vote in the House was so close, it is clear that my veto would be sustained. Today's action in the House does only one thing: it delays the delivering of vital resources for our troops. A narrow majority has decided to take this course, just as General Petraeus and his troops are carrying out a new strategy to help the Iraqis secure their capital city.

Amid the real challenges in Iraq, we're beginning to see some signs of progress. Yet, to score political points, the Democratic majority in the House has shown it is willing to undermine the gains our troops are making on the ground.

Democrats want to make clear that they oppose the war in Iraq. They have made their point. For some, that is not enough. These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal, and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen. Our men and women in uniform need these emergency war funds. The Secretary of Defense has warned that if Congress does not approve the emergency funding for our troops by April the 15th, our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions, and so would their families.

The Democrats have sent their message, now it's time to send their money. This is an important moment -- a decision for the new leaders in Congress. Our men in women in uniform should not have to worry that politicians in Washington will deny them the funds and the flexibility they need to win. Congress needs to send me a clean bill that I can sign without delay. I expect Congress to do its duty and to fund our troops, and so do the American people -- and so do the good men and women standing with me here today.

Thank you for your time.

Eye on Congress
Dems in Tight Win for Setting Timetable on Withdrawal
03/23/2007 1:20 PM ET
) House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO); House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) listen after the House voted 218-212 to approve an emergency funding bill for the war in Iraq
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
) House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO); House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) listen after the House voted 218-212 to approve an emergency funding bill for the war in Iraq

The House of Representatives has just passed HR 1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007, by a tight vote of 218-212.

Even if the measure has little chance of passing the Senate, and no chance of escaping Bush's veto, the vote marks a major success for Pelosi's leadership. The Dems whipped for votes right down to the last minute, and for good reason, since every "Yea" could have achieved the critical tipping point today.

The vote fell along party lines, though two Republicans defected--Walter Jones (NC), and Wayne Gilchrest (MD). Of the 14 Dems who voted against it, six belong to the Out of Iraq caucus--who refuse to vote one more cent for the war--and the rest were primarily a mix of Blue Dogs.

The $124 billion emergency spending bill includes a Democrat-sponsored measure that would require the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The redeployment would commence March 2008, with most troops withdrawn by August. Some would stay behind to continue training Iraqi forces and to protect the US diplomatic mission.

If Maliki's government failed to meet established benchmarks of progress on the security situation, allocation of oil revenues, and reforming the Constitutional amendment process, the withdrawal could begin as early as July of this year.

The legislation would require President Bush to certify Iraq's progress on July 1 and October 1. If Maliki's government fails either certification, the withdrawal would begin immediately on a six-month schedule.

Other elements of the proposed legislation would require the Pentagon to adhere to its established standards for training and equipping soldiers, and for allowing them time at home between combat tours. The bill would also add an additional $3.5 billion allotment to Bush's requested budget for veterans' and active duty soldiers' healthcare, and $1.2 billion for operations in Afghanistan, though there are also elements of pork.

Eye on Congress
Byrd's Latest Attempt to Force Pull Out Now to Face Full Senate
03/22/2007 4:17 PM ET
House Appropriations Chair Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty
House Appropriations Chair Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)

The Senate Appropriations Committee has just approved the $121.6 defense spending billion bill, including the language inserted yesterday by Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV). If approved by the Senate, the Act would require the President to "commence the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq not later than 120 days" after its enactment.

Even if the the Democrats managed to recruit enough Republicans to reach a 60-vote majority for passage of the Act, the President has threatened to veto any measure that set a deadline for a withdrawal of troops. Regardless, it's unlikely to pass, since it is not remarkably different from legislation voted down 50-48 last week.

It would similarly require a small number of troops stay behind for counterterrorism operations, training purposes, and to protect US assets. The new provision also suggests the redeployment be undertaken "as part of a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic strategy that includes sustained engagement with Iraq's neighbors."

Different from the previous iteration, it would also require the President and the MNF-Iraq to submit regular reports on the government's progress towards certain benchmarks on a schedule that the Act would allow the Iraqis to outline.

See here for the full text of the newly-inserted provisions. appropriationsIraq.pdf

Stay Tuned
Sets Non-Binding Goal for March 2008 Withdrawal
03/21/2007 4:19 PM ET
House Appropriations Chair Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty
House Appropriations Chair Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)

Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) introduced a new provision for the supplemental defense spending bill currently under consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee, which would require the President to "commence the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq not later than 120 days" after its enactment.

"United States troops should not be policing a civil war, and the current conflict in Iraq requires principally a political solution," states a copy of the draft bill, obtained by The Associated Press.

Byrd's bill sounds similar to a measure voted down 50-48 last week, as it would require a small number of troops stay behind for counterterrorism operations, training purposes, and to protect US assets.

However, this bill also asks the Iraqi government to meet a certain series of benchmarks, such as disarming militias and fostering national reconciliation--similar to the measure coming up for a vote in the House Thursday. The House measure is tougher on the Iraqis, though, in that it ties to scheduling of the redployment to the Iraqi government reporting significant progress on their stated goals.

The Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the provision tomorrow.

SURGE CREEP
Aviation Brigade To Ship Out by May
03/16/2007 05:51 AM ET
Soldiers in the US Army 2nd Infantry Division shortly before deploying from South Korea to Iraq in 2004.
Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP.
Soldiers in the US Army 2nd Infantry Division shortly before deploying from South Korea to Iraq in 2004.

General Petraeus has asked the Pentagon for additional troops in Iraq, the Boston Globe has learned.

The US commander in Iraq has appealed for a combat aviation unit that would involve "between 2,500 and 3,000 more soldiers and dozens of transport helicopters and powerful gunships," according to the Globe's Pentagon sources.

The Globe story scoops any formal announcement of the request.

A "senior Pentagon official closely involved in the war planning" told the Globe, "This is the next shoe to drop . . . But you cannot put five combat brigades in there and not have more aviation guys, military police, and intelligence units."

This next lot of additional troops are expected to be in Iraq May. The aviation brigade will support combat troops in Baghdad and Anbar Province, the Globe reports.

This latest troop request is distinct from the 21,500 original "surge" troops, and from the additional 4,600 support troops (among whom number 2,200 military police and other personnel) requested last week.

After all units have deployed to Iraq, the number of additional US forces shipped to the theater in the first half of 2007 will approach 30,000, on top of the estimated 130,000 troops already in Iraq.

The Globe writes that the new aviation brigade will likely come from the Army's Third Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia, according to a Pentagon source cited in the Globe. The unit was slated to return to Iraq before the Bush escalation plan, but this deployment would acclerate their return.

With the new deployment, the unit will bring the total number of aviation brigades in Iraq to four. If that level is to be maintained, a Pentagon official said, the military will have to identify replacement units in a few months.

Eye on Congress
Democratic Bill Defeated 50-48
03/15/2007 7:49 PM ET
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Kyl, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, all Republicans, on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Photo by Chip Sommeville/AFP.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Kyl, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, all Republicans, on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The Democratic Senate measure designed to pull most US forces out of Iraq by March 2008 has been defeated.

McClatchy reports that the 50-48 vote fell along party lines, with three defections: Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon voted yea with the Democrats, and Democratic Sen. Nelson, of Nebraska, and Sen. Pryor, of Arkansas, voted with the GOP. Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who generally caucuses with the Democrats, voted with the Republicans against the measure.

The bill called for the redeployment of US forces out of Iraq in a year. Democratic backers of the bill said that the redeployment of US forces was necessary as there was no longer a military solution to the Iraqi conflict.

Republican opponents of the bill argued against setting a deadline for withdrawal, and made a constitutional argument against the role of Congress in making war-related decisions.

The next legislative theater of battle over the Iraq war is expected to be in the House, where a Democratic measure that combines funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with stricter enforcement of the Pentagon’s standards for readiness and training, which would limit the Bush administration’s ability to further escalate the war. That bill cleared the House Appropriation Committee today, and will be up for debate in the House.

Eye on Congress
Defense Supplemental Clause Requires Benchmarks, Timetable
03/15/2007 1:52 PM ET
WASHINGTON - MARCH 08: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) (D-CA) speaks during a Capitol Hill press conference with Rep. David Obey (L) (D-WI) March 8, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Win McNee/Getty
WASHINGTON - MARCH 08: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (R) (D-CA) speaks during a Capitol Hill press conference with Rep. David Obey (L) (D-WI) March 8, 2007 in Washington, DC.

House Appropriations Committee members voted 37-27 on Thursday to retain a Democrat-backed provision attached to the $124 billion supplemental war spending bill, which would require troops be withdrawn before September 2008, or possibly sooner if the Iraqis fail to meet certain benchmarks.

The committee is expected to approve the overall spending bill late on Thursday, after which it will move to full debate on the House floor starting next week.

Republicans in the House and Senate have both resisted any attempt to set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee attempted to have the timetable element stripped from the Democratic provision, but failed.

Regardless, the Republicans have other means to block the imposition of a timetable, and President Bush has already threatened the veto against any bill that attempts to hold him to a set schedule.

Link To Report
Military Uses Term for First Time
03/14/2007 9:21 PM ET
Front cover of report.
Front cover of report.
For the first time, the Pentagon used the term "civil war" to refer to the situation in Iraq.

The US military released a quarterly report, required by Congress in earlier military spending legislation, in which the term appears, although the military is careful not to describe Iraq as a full-fledged civil war, but rather a civil war in "some elements."

"As described in the January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the term 'civil war' does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shi’a-on-Shi’a violence, al-Qaida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence," the report reads, adding, "Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a 'civil war,' including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence and population displacements."

The last quarterly report was released in November 2006. Most of the data used in this report predate the Baghdad security plan.

The report also surveys some economic and infrastructural activity in Iraq, and criticizes government corruption and legislative inaction on key US demands such as reform of the de-Ba'thification law. It also catalogues official statistics for armed attacks, noting that four provinces (Diyala, Anbar, Baghdad, and Salah al-Din) were the site of 80% of armed attacks. The report also discusses the operational readiness of the Iraqi armed forces.

In its discussion of the security situation in the country, the report repeats earlier US allegations about the Iranian and Syrian role in Iraq.

After the release of the last quarterly report, IraqSlogger criticized the Pentagon's methods for calculating the number of attacks, writing that the military was systematically undercounting violent incidents in the country. There appears to be no change in the military's methodology in the new quarterly report, although the report does include this statement after its discussion of casualty figures:

In addition, as these data only include violence reported to or observed by Coalition forces, they only provide a partial picture of the violence experienced by Iraqis. The UN estimates civilian casualties based on the number of casualties reported by hospitals throughout the country. For the month of December, the UN estimated that more than 6,000 civilians were killed or wounded. This is about twice as many casualties as were recorded by Coalition forces.

The report can be accessed here.

Kucinich Says "Benchmark" Law Opens Iraqi Oil to Foreign Control
By SANDRA HERNANDEZ 03/14/2007 6:03 PM ET

The Iraqi Cabinet's approval of a draft law privatizing the country's oil industry was hailed as a political milestone by the Bush Administration last month, but critics are now blasting a House bill that makes the law a precondition for continued U.S. military support.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) called for the removal of the Iraqi hydrocarbon law, as it is called, from a supplemental war appropriations bill to be considered on the House floor next week, saying that the law "is a concerted effort to ensure that American oil companies are granted access to Iraqi oil fields."

The hydrocarbons law, which must still be passed by the Iraqi parliament, is one of six "performance measures" that Baghdad would have to meet in order to receive more funding from Congress this year, UPI reports. Failure by the Iraqi parliament to meet these benchmarks would result in redeployment of U.S. troops.

Kucinich called for reconsideration of the benchmark in a Monday letter to House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and plans to propose an amendment on the House floor next week that would remove it from the supplemental. By requiring enactment of the law by the Iraqi government, "democrats will be instrumental in privatizing Iraqi oil," his website quoted him as saying.

Kucinich's amendment "in all likelihood is not going to get past the Rules Committee," a congressional staffer told Iraqslogger.com, adding that the Congressman had not actively sought his colleagues' support for the amendment.

As Iraqslogger reported previously, the draft hydrocarbon law empowers Iraq's regional governments to negotiate production contracts with international oil companies, while calling for national distribution of oil revenues on a per capita basis.

But other provisions in the law undercut this revenue-sharing plan, opening Iraq's oilfields to foreign control, writes Antonia Juhasz in a New York Times op-ed:

"The law would transform Iraq's oil industry from a nationalized model closed to American oil companies except for limited (although highly lucrative) marketing contracts, into a commercial industry, all-but-privatized, that is fully open to all international oil companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would have exclusive control of just 17 of Iraq's 80 known oil fields, leaving two-thirds of known — and all of its as yet undiscovered — fields open to foreign control."

The draft legislation is expected to encounter stiff opposition in Parliament from the Iraqi Accordance Front and the Iraqi National slate, as well as Iraq's oil unions, which represent tens of thousands of workers, UPI reports.

The Bush Administration "has been aggressive in shepherding the oil law towards passage," writes The New York Times' Juhaz, and has made the law a performance benchmark for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

It's not clear whether Kucinich's proposal to strike the law will garner much attention on the House floor, as no one in Congress has yet publicly supported him. Robert Naiman writes in the Huffington Post, "It's quite plausible that with a little public attention and lobbying, this amendment could pass."

Eye on Congress
89-9 Votes to Proceed Wtih Debate on S.J.Res 9
03/14/2007 12:01 PM ET
Washington, UNITED STATES: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R) D-NV and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-DE, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill 14 March, 2007 in Washington, DC following a procedural vote on Iraq.
Karen BLEIER/AFP/Getty
Washington, UNITED STATES: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R) D-NV and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-DE, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill 14 March, 2007 in Washington, DC following a procedural vote on Iraq.

The Senate just finished tallying the count, and an overwhelming majority--89-9--voted for the cloture motion, removing the final obstacle for the Iraq debate to proceed.

They will now take up debate on S. J. Res. 9, or US Policy in Iraq Resolution 2007, Speaker Harry Reid's latest iteration of legislation aimed at blocking a US-led escalation of the war.

The proposed legislation would require the president to begin a phased redeployment within 120 days, to be completed by March 31, 2008. The measure would require withdrawal of all US forces except "a limited number that are essential" for three articulated purposes--protecting US and coalition personnel and infrastructure, training and equipping Iraqi troops, and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations.

The Act says those measures "would implemented as part of a comprehensive diplomatic, political, and economic strategy that includes sustained engagement with Iraq's neighbors and the international community," but goes no further to define what that would entail. It also would require the President report on the progress of transitioning the mission every 90 days.

Prior to the cloture vote, Reid explained why he was pressing the cause of this resolution:

"Five years into the war in Iraq, the mission has changed – but the Bush policy has not changed. Saddam is gone. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is in chaos. There is no stability in Iraq. U.S. troops are policing a civil war, not hunting and killing the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. The original mission no longer exists. Yet President Bush wants to stay the same failed course, to surge toward more of the same, to sustain failure. Today, the Senate must finally send a clear message to the Commander-in-Chief: President Bush, it is time for a new way forward – to change course. The way to succeed in Iraq is not to do more of the same. It is to change the mission and change the course. Our country must have a surge, America must have an escalation, but the surge must not be a military escalation, but a surge in diplomacy. This is the message the American people delivered to Congress on November 7, 2006, and this is the message we must send President Bush today."
Smackdown
"Renews" Requests for Info as "Chairman of Chief Oversight Committee"
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/12/2007 6:46 PM ET

In a letter that has a kind of 'do this, or else' tone to it, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House committee on government oversight, requested on Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice respond to all the requests for information she had ignored when Waxman was a lowly ranking minority member with no power to call hearings.

Waxman writes to Rice:

Since 2003, I have written 16 letters to you, either in your capacity as National Security Advisor or Secretary of State. According to Committee records, you have satisfactorily responded to only five of those l6 letters. Those five were co-signed by Republicans. Under the Bush Adminishation, several agencies followed a policy of not responding to minority party requests. Although I do not agree with this policy, I presume that you were also following it when you decided not to respond to my requests for information.

I am now renewing my requests as the chairman of the chief oversight committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

My inquiries cover vital issues within the Committee's oversight jurisdiction, including your role in the President's false assertion that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger. For your convenience, I have enclosed copies of the letters to which the Committee seeks your responses.

Regarding his request for documents pertaining to the false Nigerian yellowcake claim that led the White House to retract the infamous 16 words of the 2003 state of the union address, Waxman put a dealine of March 23.

The full text of today's letter and the past unanswered requests for information can be found on the House Oversight Committee's website.

The Bush Plan
Small Number of US Advisors Would Allow for Withdrawal of Most Troops
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/12/2007 5:35 PM ET
The Pentagon has been strategizing options for a back-up plan that could operate with only a small number of American advisors, in case the surge fails or future operations are blocked by Congress.

Military officials and Pentagon consultants, speaking on the condition of anonymity to the L.A. Times, said that the plan--based on American experiences in el Salvador in the 1980s--would allow for a withdrawal of US forces and renewed emphasis on training Iraqis.

As the L.A. Times' Julian Barnes and Peter Spiegel write:

But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.

A strategy following the El Salvador model would be a dramatic break from President Bush's current policy of committing large numbers of U.S. troops to aggressive counterinsurgency tactics, but it has influential backers within the Pentagon.

"This part of the world has an allergy against foreign presence," said a senior Pentagon official, adding that chances of success with a large U.S. force may be diminishing. "You have a window of opportunity that is relatively short. Your ability to influence this with a large U.S. force eventually gets to the point that it is self-defeating."

Recent public comments by Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace may indicate that he lends support to the reported Salvador approach to quelling the insurgency.

On February 6, 2007, while giving testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Pace's answer to a question posed by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) revealed the deep differences in strategic vision that currently divide US military leadership.

SEN. LINDSEY O. GRAHAM (R-SC): Will we have enough to meet the counterinsurgency doctrine of General Petraeus? GEN. PETER PACE: In pure math terms, no, sir. In terms of what is needed on the ground to get the job done, yes, sir, meaning that their talk about 50 to 1 or whatever it is to -- to 1 that you need to quell a generic insurgency -- we helped in El Salvador with 55, and that turned out the way we wanted it to. And we have 140,000 in Iraq, and that has not yet turned out the way we want it to.
Full Report PDF
New Report Crunches the Numbers on Active-Duty Rotations
03/09/2007 11:21 AM ET
The Center for American Progress's National Security Team issued a new report this week analyzing the number and duration of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan by the active Army.

The assessment led them to conclude that "the active Army today is recklessly stretched far beyond recommended use, ultimately hurting our troops and dangerously depriving our country of the strategic reserves necessary to respond to true crises."

From the introduction of "Beyond the Call of Duty: A Comprehensive Review of the Overuse of the Army in the Administration's War of Choice in Iraq" by Lawrence J. Korb, Peter Rundlet, Max Bergmann, Sean Duggan, Peter Juul:

Here is a snapshot of the current state of our 41 combat brigades and three Cavalry Regiments in the active Army.

Of the Army’s 44 combat brigades today, all but the First Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, which is permanently based in South Korea, have served at least one tour. Of the remaining 43:

– 12 Brigades have had one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 20 Brigades have had two tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 9 Brigades with three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

– 2 Brigades with four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan

Army policy recommends that after 12 months of deployment in a war zone, combat troops should come home for 24 months for recuperation and retraining before returning to combat. The Army has been forced to violate this policy many times.

Army policy recommends that troops return home after 12 months of deployment in a war zone. Due to overextension, the Army has been forced to violate this policy many times.

Because each brigade has ongoing rotations of individual troops, the fact that a given brigade has deployed three or four times does not necessarily mean that a particular soldier has also deployed that many times. Nonetheless, the number of troops that have served in Iraq—and who have served more than one tour—is staggering:

– 1.4 million military (Army and other service) troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan; 650,000 Army soldiers have been deployed to these countries

– More than 420,000 troops have deployed more than once; 170,000 Army soldiers have been deployed more than once

– 169,558 Marines have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan more than once

– More than 410,000 National Guard and Reservists have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001, for an average of 18 months per mobilization; of these, more than 84,00 have been deployed more than once

– Stop-loss (a policy that prevents troops whose enlistment end date has arrived from leaving) has been imposed on over 50,000 troops

There is a clear cost on the troops as a result of the multiple deployments:

– An Army survey revealed that soldiers are 50 percent more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder if they serve more than one tour.

– The suicide rate among troops deployed to Iraq hit an all-time high in 2006

Eye on Congress
Plan Would Have Soldiers Home by August 2008
03/08/2007 2:40 PM ET
Win McNee/Getty

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced a new legislative proposal that would establish a deadline for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

Under the plan, the redployment would commence March 2008, with most troops withdrawn by August. Some would stay behind to continue training Iraqi forces and to protect the US diplomatic mission.

If Maliki's government failed to meet established benchmarks of progress on the security situation, allocation of oil revenues, and reforming the Constitutional amendment process, the withdrawal could begin as early as July of this year.

The legislation would require President Bush to certify Iraq's progress on July 1 and October 1. If Maliki's government fails either certification, the withdrawal would begin immediately on a six-month schedule.

Pelosi wants the proposal attached to Bush's $100 billion funding request for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The measure has been referred to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration, and if approved, would be taken up for full debate on the House floor later this month.

Other elements of the proposed legislation would require the Pentagon to adhere to its established standards for training and equipping soldiers, and for allowing them time at home between combat tours. The bill would also add an additional $3.5 billion allotment to Bush's requested budget for veterans' and active duty soldiers' healthcare, and $1.2 billion for operations in Afghanistan.

DC Buzz
Iraq Contracts Under Scrutiny by Army For Use of Private Security Firms
03/02/2007 10:50 AM ET
Blackwater Security Contractor
© 2007 Robert Young Pelton
Blackwater Security Contractor

Jay Price of the News & Observer digs into the impact of Kellog Brown & Root hiring out to private security contractors on Iraq based contracts.

The Army has apparantly been jolted into action by the recent DC hearings. KBR revealed in its annual report that the Army may not pay up to $400 million in charges for private security. Under the terms of LOGCAP and according to clearly defined policy, the U.S. military is to provide security on the battlefield.

Shortly before Rep. Henry Waxman's hearings, the Army withheld $19.6 million due to Halliburton (KBR's parent company) that were directly related to the hiring of Blackwater USA. The investigation into the hiring of Blackwater and the multi layered contracts were sparked by an investigative piece in the News & Observer, a local paper in Blackwater's back yard. Price goes on to point out that:

In its annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, KBR said the Army was continuing to review its contract and that it would begin withholding more payments unless the company "can provide timely information sufficient to show that such action is not necessary to protect the government's interests." If KBR fails, it could lose $400 million in Army payments, although the actual losses could be lower, according to the report.

Blackwater is not the only security contractor hired by KBR but due to its high profile has been the lightening rod for much of the controversy surrounding the use of private military companies.

DC Buzz
Three GOP Co-Sponsors Support Protections for Injured Soldiers
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/01/2007 4:42 PM ET
Senators Obama (D-IL) and McCaskill (D-MO) in a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2007
Mark Wilson/Getty
Senators Obama (D-IL) and McCaskill (D-MO) in a news conference on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) (L) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced a new legislative proposal this afternoon aimed at preventing the kinds of inadequate medical care exposed in the recent Walter Reed scandal.

The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act of 2007 (S.713) has already garned the support of 22 co-sponsors, including three Republicans--Chris Bond (MO), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Olympia Snowe (ME).

As Sen. Obama described the intent of the legislation:

Our bill would fix deplorable conditions at outpatient residence facilities by setting high standards and increasing accountability. Under this bipartisan measure, the standards will be clear. First, recovering soldiers' rooms will be as good or better as the best standard rooms for active-duty troops. Second, our injured heroes will not have to wait more than two weeks for maintenance problems to be repaired. Third, we will have zero tolerance for pest infestations. And finally, emergency medical personnel and crisis counselors will be available to recovering troops 24 hours a day.

In a tip of the hat to Dana Priest and Anne Hull, McCaskill cited their two-part series as the inspiration behind the move to reform.

It is not often that you read something in the paper that makes you sick, but this is precisely the feeling I had just over a week ago as I read a Washington Post article that spoke of awful living conditions and an interminable bureaucracy being experienced by our war wounded who are receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Specifically, the proposed Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act would:

— Reduce the paperwork that veterans must complete to receive disability benefits.

— Increase the number of caseworkers for recovering soldiers.

— Step up caseworkers' training.

— Require more frequent inspections of military hospitals.

— Establish timelines for repairs to hospitals.

— Improve access to psychological counseling.

After introduction, the bill was referred to the Armed Services Committee for further debate.

Complete text of the proposed legislation can be found here: woundedwarriors.pdf.

DC Buzz
Private Bipartisan Commission to Assess Congress's War Powers
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 03/01/2007 10:39 AM ET
Photo by Jamie Rose/Getty Images
In the coming months, the debate surrounding Congress's war powers responsibilities and limitations under the Constitution will be getting a chorus of august senior statesmen and experts chiming in with a consensus opinion.

The University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs has announced the formation of the National War Powers Commission, a private bipartisan panel led by former Secretaries of State James A. Baker, III and Warren Christopher.

The Commission's stated goal is to examine how the Constitution allocates the powers of beginning, conducting, and ending war. The first meeting is scheduled to convene April 3-4, but they have yet to determine how long it will take to produce a final report.

Baker and Christopher have worked with Virginia Governor, Gerald Baliles, to assemble an impressive roster for the bipartisan panel: Slade Gorton, former U.S. Senator from Washington; Lee H. Hamilton, former Member of Congress from Indiana; Carla A. Hills, former U.S. Trade Representative; John O. Marsh, Jr., former Secretary of the Army; Edwin Meese, III, former U.S. Attorney General; Abner J. Mikva, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; J. Paul Reason, former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet; Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor; Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University; and Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution.

“Few matters are more important to our nation than how we make decisions of war and peace,” said former Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles, Director of the Miller Center. “But war powers questions have bedeviled a host of Presidents, members of Congress, and judges for more than two hundred years. With its wide-ranging experience, this Commission is uniquely qualified to attempt to provide insights into how best to resolve these difficult questions.”

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