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Commentary
Iraq-Saudi Showdown: Who Wins When Winning is a Killer?
By EASON JORDAN 07/28/2007 10:08 PM ET
BAGHDAD - JULY 25: Iraqis celebrate after Iraq's National soccer team won against South Korea during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match. Amid the celebrations, dozens of Iraqis were killed by suicide bombers, grudge killings, and celebratory gunfire.
Photo by Getty Images
BAGHDAD - JULY 25: Iraqis celebrate after Iraq's National soccer team won against South Korea during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match. Amid the celebrations, dozens of Iraqis were killed by suicide bombers, grudge killings, and celebratory gunfire.

As much as it's tempting to cheer for the Iraqi national soccer team to beat Saudi Arabia in their Asian Cup Finals showdown Sunday in Jakarta, it's clear this is a no-win situation: if the Iraqi team prevails, it's likely dozens of innocent Iraqis will be killed as a result, while an Iraqi team loss will cause yet more sorrow among all Iraqis.

Either way, it's heartbreak.

Again and again during these Asian Cup soccer games, an Iraqi team win prompted a spate of killing in Iraq.

First, it was idiotic: celebratory gunfire killed 13 people in Baghdad after the Iraqi team won the quarter-finals.

Then, after the Iraqi win in the semi-finals, suicide bombers targeted crowds, killing more than 50.

At the same time, celebratory gunfire took more lives, and Baghdad residents with grudges against neighbors killed them using the cover of celebratory gunfire

Iraqi authorities are panic-stricken with fear over what bloodshed might result if the Iraqi team beats Saudi Arabia Sunday.

They have imposed selective curfews, banned cars from streets in some cities, and urged Iraqis to avoid crowds and stay indoors.

Where else outside of Iraq is it so clear a win is a loss and a loss is a win?

Actually, a loss no matter the score of the match.

Nevertheless, I'm rooting for the Iraqi team and the Iraqi people.

Go, Lions of Mesopotamia.

Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom Worries Son's Sudden Silence a Symptom of Trauma
07/25/2007 2:18 PM ET
My son has been writing very short e-mails lately, only a few sentences, all asking about life back at home. This is unusual--his emails are usually long, full of details about his life, ideas, and friends.

When he has written short e-mails before, it has been because he was busy. But now each time I ask, he tells me they are doing nothing, staying behind the wire all the time.

I told a friend I am beginning to worry about what he is not saying. She asked if I thought it could be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She told me, "It starts that way, with them withdrawing."

My son has been deployed so many times and he quickly readjusted each time he came back--a little hyper-vigilant at first until he settled into routine. I wouldn't say his deployments didn't change him. He became a littler older, more mature, more realistic, but I saw no long-term affects of PTSD.

I understand each repeated deployment increases the likelihood of PTSD. But he has always come home ok before, so I didn't know what to think about my friend's suggestion.

So many things about modern warfare contribute to PTSD. Night vision goggles make it possible to continue fighting through the darkness, and sleep deprivation contributes to PTSD. The nature of the insurgency makes it difficult to distinguish the civilians from the enemy, leading to a sense of being constantly surrounded by danger.

I know the military evaluates soldiers before and after deployment, but the symptoms of PTSD are not always easy to see. I continue to reel through the symptoms in my head to think if I can see any of them in my son.

I've heard from other families how much trouble their soldier's have had getting treatment for PTSD. Unlike physical injuries, injuries to the mind can't be seen, and are harder to diagnose. Patients often face long waits for appointments as well. There is also a stigma that causes soldiers to not seek out help. I hope my son is not beginning that battle.

At the moment, I am just going to assume my son's silence means nothing serious. I choose for now to believe he is fine--just a distracted young man. But I will be watching for other signs.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.

Soldier Mom
They Like to Talk, But Should Learn to Listen
By TRACEY CALDWELL 07/18/2007 12:42 PM ET
I stayed up listening to Senators speaking about Iraq all through the night. I realize this filibuster is designed to prevent a vote on what our soldiers should be doing in Iraq, and I do think the Senators shouldn't be afraid to have their position recorded on what course we should take. That is what they are there for---to vote on legislation.

Since the amendment is attached to a defense-spending bill, I sometimes worry about any possible delay in funding for our troops, but still appreciate the Senate devoting so much time to the issue. I heard a number of Senators last night asking: "What's next?" They rightfully worry about the consequences of American withdrawal.

That there will be consequences is of no doubt, but they want to know if we can manage the potential post-occupation crisis with a mission change. They worry Iraq will spiral into a humanitarian crisis, though it seems to me already to be one. They talk about American interests being jeopardized, and how we might protect those interests.

I heard the talk yesterday that they might "surge the surge," adding more troops to Iraq. For military families, that means our soldiers will probably find their deployment extended again, which makes the Senate debate all the more important for us. They are deciding in what role our soldiers will serve. Will they continue in combat roles, or will they move to training, terrorist hunting, and securing American interests?

Senators on both sides used soldiers to make their point--reading moving emails, or talking about funerals they've attended. It is nice to know someone is reading our emails and attending soldiers' funerals. Now if we could just get them to get together and decide something about Iraq.

Watching Senators standing at the podium debating the issue of Iraq, the seats behind them were usually empty. The Levin-Reed amendment was important enough to stop it from coming to a vote, but apparently the war is not important enough for them to stay in the Senate all night searching for common ground. No, they just come in when it is their turn to speak or they need to vote.

Our soldiers often have sleepless nights on the battlefield. They don't they the option of going back to an office. There are no showers, no comforts for their restlessness. Many mothers can't sleep for worrying about their soldiers, or mourning their soldiers. Would it be too much to ask that Congress stay awake, listen to each other, work together until they find a solution for the situation in Iraq?

Only on Slogger
What Can Be Learned from Front-line Journalists; Tackling Contractor PTSD
By ANTHONY FEINSTEIN 07/16/2007 09:00 AM ET
A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the psychological plight of contractors working in Iraq. In particular, there is evidence to suggest that a high percentage of contractors may be suffering from conditions such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression and Substance Abuse.

The article went on to state that contractors, either while working in Iraq or on their return home, are for the most part apparently left to fend for themselves. The corporations that employ them seem not to have made provision for their psychological care and there is no mechanism in place to assess how this group is fairing psychologically.

This report, which it should be emphasized, is based on anecdotal not empirical data, should not come as a surprise. The current environment in Iraq is hazardous in the extreme and contractors inevitably face grave dangers. This situation is not, of course, unique to them and in theory lessons can be learned from another profession who have also chosen to work in Iraq on a temporary basis. Here I refer to front-line journalists.

In a study my research group completed a few years back and published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Studies, foreign journalists working in Iraq were found to have prominent symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and depression. What is noteworthy is that these findings emerged during the early stages of the Iraq conflict during a period in which the dangers were considered less intense than those currently encountered. There is therefore every reason to believe that should this study be repeated now, the results would likely show a further increase in the journalists’ psychological distress.

As a result of the above findings CNN and its former Managing Director for CNN International, Chris Cramer, sponsored the development of an interactive website to assess the psychological health of front-line journalists in the field. The website www.conflict-study.com was recently launched and has been a critical success receiving considerable attention from journalists. It provides an easy-to-use tool that allows journalists to undertake a self-assessment with respect to disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Substance Abuse, and overall psychological health. Journalists are provided with immediate feedback as to their scores and advised whether to consult their general practitioner or their Employer Assistance Program.

An on-line assessment program that has worked well for journalists could, in principle work well for contractors too. There is a universality to trauma response and the kinds of disorders that front-line journalists suffer from will be the same as those affecting contractors.

The corporations that employ contractors and send them into hazardous environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan may therefore want to take note of the experiences of front-line journalists and what has been learned by those in news organizations who care for their well being. The methodology developed for journalists, an offshoot of more than five years of research, would be applicable to contractors and could provide a ready and user friendly means to assist this group as they endeavor to function in the worlds most dangerous places.

Anthony Feinstein
Professor, Department of Psychiatry
University of Toronto
antfeinstein@aol.com

Commentary
Let the Iraqis Pay for the US Military Presence in Their Country
By JACK HENDERSON 07/14/2007 10:10 PM ET
According to the Congressional Research Service, one US soldier costs $390,000 per year.

If the proposal for the limited mission of a continuing US military presence in Iraq involved 50,000 troops, the annual cost of the new mission would be $19.5 billion.

If the strategy for the Gulf War were to be applied to the new US military mission in Iraq – the beneficiaries of the operations should share in the cost – the SOFA for the new mission would include the obligation of the Iraq Government on behalf of the people of Iraq being liberated to reimburse the US Government in the amount of $19.5 billion.

There are sufficient funds held by the Central Bank and invested in US Treasury Securities.

A fund of less than $1 billion is required to be held by the Central Bank to support the maintenance of the pegged exchange rate, and that amount would be left after the withdrawal or could be accumulated within a few months.

Jack Henderson is an avid IraqSlogger reader who sends 15-20 comments a week to IraqSlogger via the green "TIPS, QUESTIONS & SUGGESTIONS" tab in the left column of our home page.

Commentary
White House Lacks Credibility After Four Years of Overly Optimistic Rhetoric
By WAYNE WHITE 07/13/2007 1:28 PM ET
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: U.S. President George W. Bush looks downward as he listens to a question about the war in Iraq during a press conference July 12, 2007 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: U.S. President George W. Bush looks downward as he listens to a question about the war in Iraq during a press conference July 12, 2007 at the White House in Washington, DC.

A major motivator behind those on Capitol Hill unwilling to accept the President’s plea to wait until September for a decision on the war relates to the basic issue of trust, not to mention intense skepticism resulting from repeated benchmarks heralded with great promise only to end in more failure.

The President’s appeal to await an evaluation of the surge in September would seem quite reasonable if viewed in a vacuum. However, it is now clear that a large body of lawmakers on the Hill and the majority of American voters they represent do not believe that President Bush can be trusted to change course if the report by General Petraeus in September is discouraging.

How many other times have we heard there is an election, a constitution, a new Iraqi government, a new prime minister, a change in tactics, a need for more troops, etc., accompanied by calls to wait just a little longer, especially since the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis in June 2004? More and more Americans are simply tired of hearing the same rhetoric to a backdrop of continued violence, lawlessness, corruption, political gridlock and military failure out in Iraq, while American dead and wounded pile up alarmingly--not to mention the $10 billion per month price-tag for US taxpayers.

Some observers this week have leveled the oft-heard charge that the American public just does not understand the need for more time. Yet, Americans already have given the Administration far more time to set matters straight in Iraq than it took to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II. If there is any problem associated with time, it relates to the Administration’s inability to comprehend how dismal the overall effort in Iraq has proceeded during more than four long years. At what point does the White House plan to concede that it’s vision for Iraq is not likely to emerge anytime soon—if ever?

It also is important to note this week that the “Initial Assessment Benchmark Report” contains considerable spin as opposed to straightforward analysis relating to the actual situation on the ground in Iraq. Indeed, maximizing the positive and minimizing the vast amount of deeply disturbing indicators may well preview the sort of approach General Petraeus will take in September, inevitably coming under considerable White House and Pentagon pressure to provide enough “good news” to sustain current policy.

Additionally, even if the September report is reasonably fair, most legislators and the majority of the American pubic seriously doubt that the President would take appropriate action toward a change in policy that would, almost certainly, require an exit strategy. Indeed, they fear that what the President, who again spoke on Thursday of winning and rolled out the laundry list of alleged terrors connected with leaving, was really saying was that we cannot pull out, period. In fact, the President seems unable to step back from his emotional involvement in the war in a way that would allow him to make the dispassionate and objective judgments needed to determine what should be done at this late stage of the game.

As a result, with a President clearly unwilling to face up to the troubling situation on the ground, the Administration may well view waiting for the September report as another useful halt in the political action that buys enough time for it to fashion a “Plan B” designed to stretch out the timeline still farther, effectively moving the goal posts once again. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in the face of the President’s inability to assess the overall situation in Iraq with real objectivity, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concluding—many very reluctantly--that some sort of deadline for withdrawal is now a must in order to exercise any control whatsoever over this unfortunate situation.

Wayne White, currently an Adjunct Scholar with the Middle East Institute, was Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia until 2005.

Commentary
Documents Domestic Political Maneuverings, Rather Than Iraqi Progress
By WINSLOW WHEELER 07/12/2007 4:46 PM ET
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: U.S. President George W. Bush listens to a question about the war in Iraq during a press conference July 12, 2007 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: U.S. President George W. Bush listens to a question about the war in Iraq during a press conference July 12, 2007 at the White House in Washington, DC.

President George W. Bush's report today to Congress on Iraq, the White House's "Initial Benchmark Assessment Report," presents a series of assessments of Iraq's performance on 18 benchmarks that have been jointly imposed by Congress and the President. Reading the report makes two things painfully obvious: 1) President Bush is grading Iraq on a curve; and 2) he and Congress are administering the wrong test.

While the Iraqis are assessed in the White House's report to have achieved "satisfactory progress" on only eight of 18 "benchmarks" (six are rated "unsatisfactory"; two are given mixed ratings, and two are rated unable to be rated), it is painfully clear from reading the report that the "satisfactory" assessments are graded on a sharp curve. On political issues, any change - even a decision to delay a decision - is deemed "satisfactory." On military questions, characteristics that would mean a military unit is unfit to fight in the American Army (such as the three brigades the Iraqis barely managed to cobble together to deploy to Baghdad) are deemed "satisfactory" in this report.

However, we are missing a far more fundamental and important point if all we take from this White House report is its transparent effort to make the situation in Iraq appear slightly less of a mess than others might perceive.

What comes through even more clearly is the imposition of alien benchmarks on the Iraqi society and its faltering government. These benchmarks are not an effort to assist Iraq recover from the disaster of the American invasion and occupation, they are an effort to impose Western, if not American, values and methods on a society that has been resisting them, mostly violently, for the last four years. Perhaps even more to the point, the benchmarks have every appearance of an effort to make American politicians, not Iraqi citizens, feel better about themselves. An oil law to assist non-Iraqi oil companies extract resources, Western notions of constitutional law and minority rights, federalism - if not regionalism leading to virtual partition - and ending forthwith centuries old divisions in the society are just some of the end states the benchmarks seek to effect.

Moreover, the politicians in the White House and Congress pushing the benchmarks are probably thankful these tests are not being imposed on them, if the thought of oversight of themselves were ever to occur to them. For example -

--Benchmark X seeks to permit Iraqi military commanders "to make tactical and operational decisions ... without political intervention ..." That would have been an excellent suggestion for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and several others during the run up to the initial American invasion and for the political wrangling going on this very week in Congress from both sides of the political aisle.

--The discussion in the White House report on benchmark XI ("Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces are providing even-handed enforcement of the law") complains that, "There have been inadequate efforts to detain some senior ... officials believed responsible for human rights abuses...." The hypocrisy of this "benchmark" pains the core of every decent American's soul.

--Benchmark VI calls on Iraqis to enact amnesty legislation, something that was a long time in coming after the American Civil War and that today's anti-immigration activists scream against from the rooftops; it bespeaks a frame of mind that many Republicans and Democrats in Congress never fail to reject as they pretend to lament the absence of bipartisanship.

Are the benchmarks an honest and soundly based effort to assist Iraqi society and government? Or, are they an excuse-in-waiting for American politicians to exploit when they try to explain away the failure of a half decade of misbegotten policy, more than half a trillion dollars, and 3,600-plus American military lives.

Bush's new "Initial Benchmark Assessment Report" is an interesting document, but it should be read to understand American political maneuvering with respect to the war, rather than a measure of "progress" in Iraq.

Winslow Wheeler is the director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information.

Commentary
Progress Impossible When Reigning Powers Hold No Political Authority
By AMB. CHAS FREEMAN 07/12/2007 4:35 PM ET
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: (L-R) U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) listen during a news conference on Iraq July 12, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/AFP/Getty
WASHINGTON - JULY 12: (L-R) U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) listen during a news conference on Iraq July 12, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

There is an air of unreality about the whole benchmark exercise, well-intentioned as many of its sponsors were. The benchmarks are not really about Iraq and what is happening there, but about how to correct our own pathologies -- specifically, White House solipsism and popular frustration with the seemingly endless tragedy the administration and Congress have jointly engineered in Iraq. Iraq having stubbornly refused to conform to the ideological hallucinations and political will of our leaders, these leaders now find themselves caught between the ugly realities of Iraq and the desire of the American people to change the channel to some less disturbing drama. The benchmarks are weapons in this game. They are of very dubious relevance to Iraq itself, where they are merely the latest manifestation of wishful thinking from Washington.

The reality is that the United States has unmatched military power in Iraq but no political authority. (Indeed, the presence of U.S.forces in Iraq is regarded as illegitimate by most of the world, including Iraqis, making resistance to our forces legitimate in their eyes.) There is still no Iraqi state and an alien occupation exercises the monopoly of force that would be a principal attribute of any Iraqi state. The concept behind the "surge" is that the Green Zone-based regime has legitimacy sufficient to be empowered by the restoration of order in key parts of Iraq. The strategy is essentially to empower the Baghdad regime by transferring to it the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. But the problem is that the regime lacks not just power but authority, in the sense of acceptance by Iraqis and others in the region of its legitimacy and right to make binding decisions for an Iraqi polity that no longer exists.

Meanwhile, our use of force is not seen by many Iraqis as legitimate and the more we use our military power the more we delegitimize it. The more the current Iraqi regime is seen to depend on our military power, the less legitimacy and authority it enjoys. We cannot transfer the authority we do not have to a regime that lacks both the power and the authority to receive it.

Through heroic efforts, Gen. Petraeus and his troops are achieving a modest level of military progress but there is no way to translate this into political progress. Indeed, the very emphasis on military means that this strategy embodies deprives Iraqis of the incentive to explore the political compromises necessary to create a legitimate state or a government with the authority necessary to govern. That, when all the spin is stripped away, is what the interim report to be released today will show.

Ambassador Chas Freeman is director of the Middle East Policy Council in Washington, DC. In his years of service for the US government, Freeman did a term as assistant secretary of defense and served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War.

Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom Does Not Expect Latest Debate Will Bring Son Home
By TRACEY CALDWELL 07/11/2007 12:10 PM ET
Win McNamee/Getty

Once again, Congress is debating Iraq. Every time they do, well-meaning friends call to see if I think this time will bring my son home. No, I don't think he will come home any sooner. I don't actually expect Congress to do anything except punt the deadline down a little further. We have been given so many dates--dates where they would decide to do something about Iraq. But the dates come and go and things in Iraq just keep getting worse. After awhile, I stopped paying attention to the next date they set. I stopped expecting them to do something that might change things for my child.

Things are still quiet where my son is at in Iraq. He has heard that some in his unit are going on a big mission, but being isolated from them, he feels out of the loop. He still fills the hours of boredom studying. He is excited about what he is learning in his online class. Reading his emails is like reading an email from a kid in college. It would almost be easy to forget he is in a war zone, but not quite.

I watch what is going on in Washington, to see what kind of pressure the politicians are getting from the constituents back home. It is a good gauge of how the American people feel about the war. The country seems less divided by this war, we don't like the way it is going. But I no faith that the debate in Congress will change what is going on in Iraq. They say Iraqis have met none of the benchmarks. Depending on whom you are listening to, that would be the reason we need to stay, or that is the reason we should go. I doubt more debate by our Congress is going to get the Iraqi government to meet the benchmarks. We really can't do anything about them, so that leaves us only to worry.

We could pass resolutions that redefine the mission. I don't know that they will make much difference for my son. I not sure what it changes to go on a mission to fight with the Iraqis or to go on a mission to train the Iraqis. It's still on the battlefield and it is still dangerous. I don't think it will take less troops to train Iraqis than it does to fight with Iraqis. Call it combat or call if counter terrorism, I don't think it makes much difference.

So Congress can debate whether to stay the course, continue the surge, or redefine the mission. I don't think what they decide to call it will make any difference to what our soldiers on the ground actually do. But I don't think they will even agree on the language. I think they will talk a lot, and in the end decide to wait until September. We will have the same debate in September and nothing will have changed. Benchmarks still won't be met and our troops will still be on the battlefield. The only thing that might be different in September is they might have to discuss extending our troops again in order to maintain the surge. The debates in Congress are beginning to look like a tired summer rerun. We all know what they will say and how it will end.

Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom Constantly Reminded How Alike We All Are
By TRACEY CALDWELL 07/04/2007 10:40 AM ET
Getty

My son will spend his Fourth of July on a forward operating base in Iraq. He won't be doing much. With only a skeleton crew at his FOB, for the most part, the days grow long and boring. But since boring usually means safe, I hope he stays bored.

He will miss the family gatherings, picnics, fireworks. But gathering with family gives me a chance to be reminded that I am not alone--others miss my son as well. But my son is safe. I read today in our local newspaper about another mother losing her son to a roadside bomb. He joined the military seeking U.S. citizenship. (He wasn't alone. Foreign-born nationals make up about five percent of our active duty force.) Just days after his death, his mother received his citizenship papers.

I have been exchanging emails with a young man, Mr. M., who writes for the Comments from Left Field blog. He recently wrote me, "We don't have to be in someone else's shoes; you just gotta open your eyes and see how alike we all are. Just families trying to keep it together."

It surprises me sometime how much I have in common with people I have never met. I received an email this week from an Iraqi man who had left Iraq and was now living in London. He had read the column I wrote back at the end of February, about my son getting stuck in the mud. He wrote to tell me he was touched by the story because he knew how muddy Iraq could get.

He wrote to me, "May Allah protect your son and guide him for I am sure he is a good man and so was the Iraqi who helped him. Like your son, most Iraqis are good people." My son knows that--that most Iraqis are good people. It was the same when he was in Afghanistan. Most of the people are just trying to survive a difficult situation. That's one of the things that makes war so hard: trying to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and not forgetting that most are probably good guys--something that can be hard to remember when the bad guys are so deadly.

A friend, whose son is fresh out of boot camp, will spend her first holiday away from her child. He has always been there when the family gathered, but this year he is settling into his new base. Though he'll have the day off, he does not have enough leave to fly home. He will experience this Fourth of July on a base, with his new military family. His mom will show off photos of his new barracks, his new life as a soldier, and she will wish he were there.

It's the first of many holidays they won't spend together. Hanging the flag in front of her house will have new meaning on this 4th of July. Her son has become of those soldiers we think of on days like today.

Mr. M is quite right. Everywhere I look, I find people who--though their experiences may be very different from mine--have something in common with what I am going through. They will fly their flags in front of their houses today. Even if they don't know a soldier, they will be thinking of American troops past and present. This is a day when we all experience picnics, pride, and patriotism. It is day when we will be reminded how much we have in common.

An Iraqi in London knows the mud my son walks through. A mom across town knows what it feels like to not have her child at the family picnic. A young man somewhere in the World Wide Web can jot off an e-mail to let me know how much he is like my son and how much I am like his mom. So today, I will keep my eyes open and see how alike we all are.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.

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