Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 19th edition

Above: A Pathfinder with 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade 'fast ropes' onto a rooftop from a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during training at Contingency Operating Base Speicher

June 19, 2002:

The Chemicals of War

The Western world has not always found the use of chemical weapons in war to be morally abhorrent.

In 1919 Winston Churchill, then secretary of state at the British war office, was a keen advocate of what today, when others seek to acquire them, we call weapons of mass destruction:

"I do not understand squeamishness about the use of gas," Churchill wrote. "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.

It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses; gasses can be used which would cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected."

Australia's most famous and highly decorated immunologist shared Churchill's enthusiasm. In 1947, Nobel prize winning microbiologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet secretly urged Canberra to develop biological and chemical weapons for use against Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries.

According to Burnett, "the most effective counter-offensive to threatened invasion by overpopulated Asiatic countries would be directed towards the destruction by biological or chemical means of tropical food crops and the dissemination of infectious disease capable of spreading in tropical but not under Australian conditions."

During the Vietnam war, the United States sprayed chemical weapons on South Vietnam in order to defoliate the countryside. Reports of the terrible human toll exacted on the Vietnamese link as many as 250,000 casualties directly to the use of chemicals.

In the absence of a plausible casus belli connecting Iraq in any way to the 9-11 atrocities, it was inevitable that the Bush administration would invoke 'the threat of chemical weapons' as it prepares US public opinion for Washington's next encounter with Saddam Hussein.

Assuming few will question the conflation of two unrelated issues - the so called 'war against terrorism' and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - President Bush has characterised Saddam as "a man who is willing to kill his own people by using chemical weapons."

The US President is referring here to the afternoon of 17 March 1988, when Iraq's airforce attacked the Kurdish city of Halabja, which is located just inside northern Iraq on the border with Iran.

Within half an hour 5000 men, women and children were killed when chemical weapons containing Mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin, tabun and VX were dropped upon them.

Though few of the victims would have regarded themselves as Saddam's "own people", this was an horrendous crime against one of Iraq's most persecuted ethnic minorities.

In light of George W. Bush's determination to construct a pretext for the next US strike against the Iraqi dictator, how did Washington respond at the time to this despicable act?

Were there passionate denunciations of the attack and calls for a military strike against the man who, only after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, became known as the "butcher of Baghdad'? Were sanctions imposed?

There was nothing of the kind.

Initially, the US blamed Iran for the attack, a particularly cynical ploy given Saddam had also used chemical weapons against Teheran's forces during their nine year conflict in the 1980s.

In fact Washington continued to treat Saddam as a favoured ally and trading partner long after the attack on Halabja was exposed as his handiwork. At the time the Reagan Administration tried to prevent criticism of Saddam's chemical attack on the Kurds in the Congress, and in December 1989 George Bush's father authorised new loans to Saddam.

According to the reports of a Senate Committee, the US Department of
Commerce licensed the export of biological materials – including anthrax and a range of pathogenic agents, as well as plans for chemical and biological warfare production facilities and chemical-warhead filling equipment - to Iraq up until December 1989 - 20 months after Halabja.

If the White House was unconcerned by Saddam's use of chemical weapons in 1988, why would it be genuinely worried now?

As the new front in the 'war against terrorism' is opened, we will be hearing a lot about the monster who gassed "his own people", and who therefore deserves a Taliban-style attack.

There may be good reasons for toppling the dictator in Baghdad and encouraging a transition to democracy in the country, but it won't be based on Western moral outrage at his use of chemical weapons.

Read the rest at ABC Australia

June 19, 2003:

Wives of 3rd Infantry soldiers want their husbands home now

HINESVILLE, Ga. – During the war in Iraq, the Army's 3rd Infantry took more casualties than any other military division. Now, with the fighting all but over, many wives angrily say their battle-weary husbands need to come home.

Once the picture of pride and patriotism during the war, the wives are arguing that the soldiers who did the killing should not have to do the peacekeeping.

"They need to be out of there, because I don't believe it's safe," said Ellen Peterson, the wife of a 3rd Infantry sergeant who was deployed in January from the division's base at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

The Army's decision to assign new missions to more than 16,000 of the division's troops has hit hard in this military town. After six to 10 months in the desert, wives say, the men are mentally and physically exhausted.

"A lot of people felt like if you didn't support the war, you didn't support the troops," said Peterson, a 42-year-old financial analyst, who asked that her husband's name not be used. "I had to tell someone – I've supported my husband for 16 years. I don't have to support the policies."

U.S. commanders have said they tapped the 3rd Infantry to crush pockets of Iraqi resistance and keep order because of its fighting reputation. The division specializes in desert warfare and has experience with peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo in 2000 and 2001.

"I know it's hard on the families," Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry, said June 3 from Baghdad. "We got a mission to do over here, we're continuing to do that mission and it's changing."

He said his troops should be home by the end of August, earlier if possible.

Thirty-five members of the 3rd Infantry have died in Iraq; the most recent death was on May 8, when a soldier was shot while directing traffic on a bridge in Baghdad.

With attacks against U.S. troops a daily occurrence, some 3rd Infantry soldiers themselves are questioning their role.

"We need to pull these guys out and put some other troops in here who are trained for peacekeeping, because our first impulse is to kill," Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wright said in Iraq. "My guys question why we are going from warriors to peacekeepers, because the belief in what was told to us was that we would fight and win and go home and that someone else would do this."

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

June 19, 2004:

Clinton defends successor's push for war

Former President Clinton has revealed that he continues to support President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq but chastised the administration over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over," Clinton said in a Time magazine interview that will hit newsstands Monday, a day before the publication of his book "My Life."

Clinton, who was interviewed Thursday, said he did not believe that Bush went to war in Iraq over oil or for imperialist reasons but out of a genuine belief that large quantities of weapons of mass destruction remained unaccounted for.

Noting that Bush had to be "reeling" in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Clinton said Bush's first priority was to keep al Qaeda and other terrorist networks from obtaining "chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material."

"That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for," Clinton said in reference to Iraq and the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in 1998.

"So I thought the president had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, 'Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process.' You couldn't responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks," Clinton said.

Pressed on whether the Iraq war was worth the cost to the United States, Clinton said he would not have undertaken the war until after U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix "finished his job."

Weapons inspectors led by Blix scoured Iraq for three and a half months before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 but left after President Bush issued an ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave the country.

"I want it to have been worth it, even though I didn't agree with the timing of the attack," Clinton said.

Read the rest at CNN

June 19, 2005:

U.S. toll in Iraq

As of Saturday, at least 1,719 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The latest identifications reported by the military:

-- Marine Lance Cpl. Erik R. Heldt, 26, Hermann, Mo., killed Thursday when an explosive detonated near his vehicle near Ramadi.

-- Marine Capt. John W. Maloney, 36, Chicopee, Mass., killed Thursday when an explosive detonated near his vehicle near Ramadi.

Read the rest at the SF Chronicle

June 19, 2006:

Major Call-Up of Eskimos for Duty in Iraq Could Cause Homefront Hardship

Military families across America often endure hardship when a loved one ships out. But there are not many places in the U.S. where those left behind have to chop ice out of the tundra for drinking water and make sure the freezer is well-stocked with walrus and seal meat.

The first major call-up of National Guard reservists from rural Alaska since World War II could mean sacrifice and upheaval for Eskimo villages that practice subsistence hunting and gathering in some of the most remote and unforgiving spots in the nation.

Eric Phillip's job in the small Yup'ik Eskimo village of Kongiganak in southwestern Alaska is to hunt walrus, seal, mink, otter, geese, ducks and other animals to provide food for his immediate family and other relatives. With Phillip shipping out, his wife and their two young sons will be moving to the city of Bethel, about 70 miles away.

"Out here it is harder for them to live alone," Phillip said. "In the village we don't have water. We have to go to the tundra and chop ice for water and melt it, and we don't have flush toilets. It is hard for a single parent to live around here in the village."

Similar stories are being told in Eskimo villages across the vast state, in places with names like Alakanuk, Emmonak and Manokotak, as 670 soldiers from some of the most hard-to-reach places in the nation head to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Six men headed to Iraq are from Scammon Bay, a Yup'ik Eskimo village of about 520 people in western Alaska where residents rely mostly on subsistence hunting and fishing. Families left behind will now rely more on each other, another time-honored tradition in rural Alaska. The village will take care of them.

"Everybody shares food really well out here. It is a custom," said Darlene Cholok, whose husband, Thomas, is one of those going to Iraq. "Our community is so close-knit and everyone is practically related in some way that there is a lot of support."

While Alaska's National Guard does an excellent job of helping its military families, it will be particularly tough for these soldiers and their families, because they live in such inaccessible areas, said Pete Mulcahy, executive director of Armed Services YMCA of Alaska. That makes it more difficult to arrange help for them, he said.

"These guys have a bigger challenge," he said. "Even a remote village in Texas is still on the road grid."

Amy Chikigak of the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Alakanuk is preparing to say goodbye to her husband, Vernon. She said she is not worried about food. Their freezers are full of seal, whale, fish, geese, swans and berries. The village store also is pretty well-stocked.

"We have vegetables and stuff like that, mashed potatoes for our fried moose," she said. "We have macaroni and cheese, and that always helps, too."

She and the three children, ages 12, 9 and 7, are going to remain in the village. If she runs short of anything, her mother and father and brothers will provide, she said.

Chikigak is more concerned about learning how to use the chainsaw to cut wood to heat the steam bath. She also wants to be able to run the boat so she can take the children on summer picnics: "I will have to force myself to learn and I will still panic."

Before leaving for Iraq and Afghanistan, the troops will get three months of training, which will include getting used to hot weather at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.

Maj. Stephen Wilson, who returned from a one-year stint in Iraq in 2005 and is overseeing the deployment of seven soldiers from Barrow, 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle, said the Alaskans should do well once they adjust to the 120-degree heat in Iraq. In Barrow — the northernmost city in the United States — the temperature doesn't get much higher than the low 50s in the summer, and often drops below freezing at night.

Maj. Mike Haller, a Guard spokesman in Anchorage, said about 35 percent of the approximately 4,000 National Guard members in Alaska are Native, well above their 19 percent share of the state's population.

Being in the National Guard is a rite of passage for many young Alaska Natives, Haller said, a tradition that started during World War II when Alaska was still a territory. In that war, the state's National Guard troops fought in both Europe and the Pacific, and some were stationed in Alaska's Aleutian Islands to guard against the Japanese.

Besides honor and tradition, service in the Guard brings in money that comes in handy in the villages, where jobs are hard to come by and food and other goods are expensive.

As for the dangers that await the troops in the Mideast, Staff Sgt. William F. Brown, the leader of the Barrow troop and 29-year guard veteran, said he has faced fear before and beaten it.

Brown recounted a whaling trip about 10 years ago when a polar bear came within about 30 feet. Brown was about to grab his gun when the whaling captain told him to relax.

"He said, `Don't show no fear, don't be scared. They're like dogs, they pick up your scent and take advantage of your fear,"' Brown said. The polar bear "just stood up, sniffed and walked away. Ever since then I've been teaching myself not to be scared, to show no fear."

Read the rest at Fox News