Thursday, June 28, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- June 28th edition

June 28, 2005: Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Tiger Squadron, Bandit Troop, play cards in their living quarters inside an empty grain warehouse in Rabi'ah, an outpost used for border operations near Syria.

June 28, 2002:

U.S. Congress moves bills for military buildup

After reaching critical compromises on missile defense and the Crusader cannon, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed bills on Thursday to approve President George W. Bush's military expansion.

The Republican-led House voted 413-18 for a $354.7 billion defense spending bill that provides a $34 billion boost to the military with pay raises, new hardware and other Pentagon demands to fight terrorism.

President George W. Bush praised the House for passing the bill and urged the Senate to follow suit next month.

"It is critical in this time of war that the defense appropriations bill be at the front, not the end, of the legislative line. Our troops deserve nothing less," Bush said...

It agreed to raise the Pentagon's limit for active duty personnel by 12,000 or 1 percent, but did not say how it should pay the $500 million cost. Backers said it signals that the military must boost its manpower to take pressure off reservists who are being forced into extended active duty.

House Republicans in their budget bill defeated efforts to cut missile defense, arguing that the system will be essential as more countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq get nuclear weapons capabilities.

Read the rest at the Namibian

June 28, 2003:

Scramble to fill power vacuum yields no obvious leader

The man who would be king spent his life outside Iraq and his claim to the throne is questionable. Former exiles favored by Washington have little support at home. Shiite clerics favored at home have little support in Washington.

Without any obvious leader for postwar Iraq, U.S. occupiers have promised to appoint an Iraqi consultative panel by July 15, but many worry that America's preoccupation with a worsening security situation may delay self rule.

Since the fall of Baghdad in April, new political movements have sprung up and others have merged in a scramble to fill a power vacuum left by Saddam Hussein's ouster.

But virtually every name mentioned as a possible future leader — Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Pachachi, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, Seyyed Muqtada al-Sadr — infuriates one group or another.

"I don't find anyone qualified for the job," said Abdul Mejid, editor of Baghdad's Azzaman newspaper. "We'd like a ready-made president like (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, but we have none."

Every major Iraqi group — Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and former exiles — is plagued by internal divisions. And with politics in Iraq monopolized for the past 35 years by Saddam's Baath Party, concepts like democracy, pluralism and civil society are new.

U.S. and British occupiers are concerned that politics in postwar Iraq will be hijacked by religious, Kurdish or other parties with their own agenda, and are determined to prevent that from happening, said a senior Western diplomat in Baghdad.

That was one reason the provisional authority scrapped a plan to convene a national conference to determine Iraq's political future, he said, asking that his name not be used.

The largest and best-organized Shiite movement in Shiite-majority Iraq is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution, led by Ayatollah al-Hakim. The group sets off alarms in Washington because of its strong links to Iran; U.S. forces have raided its offices in Baghdad several times in recent days.

Hakim and Seyyed Muqtada al-Sadr, the 30-year-old son of the wildly popular Imam Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, slain by Saddam's agents in 1999, are favorites among Iraqi Shiites and distrusted by U.S. policymakers. That underscores a key pitfall for Americans attempting to build a democratic postwar Iraq: There's no guarantee a democratic choice would be friendly to America.

Read the rest at USA Today

June 28, 2004:

Iraq begins self-rule

BAGHDAD — Iraq's new government took power from the United States on Monday in a surprise ceremony held two days ahead of schedule to avert the threat of violence from insurgents.

"The Iraqi people have their country back," President Bush said.

The hand-over ends a 14-month U.S. occupation that has provoked resentment across Iraq and armed resistance in parts of the country.

Iyad Allawi, the U.S.-backed prime minister, pledged to restore security and crush the resistance. "We will ensure the safety of our people, and we will ensure safety of the country," he said.

The hand-over ceremony — once envisioned as a major public event — was held in Allawi's private office in the Green Zone of the capital, the government area protected by miles of blast walls, barbed wire and U.S. troops. Although legally sovereign in many ways, Iraq will remain a U.S. protectorate with about 140,000 troops in the country at least through elections early next year.

Read the rest at USA Today

June 28, 2005:

Bush: 'As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down'

The president addressed Americans today in a live televised broadcast from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The following are excerpts from the speech:

"After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people: This nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."

"Our mission in Iraq is clear: We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren."

"Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed. Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question, 'Is the sacrifice worth it?' It is worth it. And it is vital to the future security of our country."

"The terrorists can kill the innocent, but they cannot stop the advance of freedom."

"The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11, if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like [Osama] bin Laden. For the sake of our nation's security, this will not happen on my watch."

"Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made."

"Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

"Today, dozens of nations are working toward a common objective: an Iraq that can defend itself, defeat its enemies and secure its freedom."

"Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong signal to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out."

"We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer."

"If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job."

"Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave."

Read the rest at CNN

June 28, 2006:

In Iraq night, a sorrowful goodbye

A soldier was dead and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, a U.S. Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sergeant Terry Michael Lisk, age 26, of Zion, Illinois, killed a few hours before. In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

Lisk had been standing near an intersection in the center of Ramadi on Monday morning when a 120-millimeter mortar shell, fired by guerrillas, landed about 30 paces away. The exploding shell flung a chunk of steel into the right side of his chest just beneath his arm.

He stopped breathing and died a few minutes later.

The pallbearers lifted Lisk's remains into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights marked the way. From a distance, there came the sound of a helicopter.

Death comes often to the soldiers and marines who are fighting in Anbar Province, the most intractable region in Iraq.

Almost every day here, an American soldier is killed somewhere in Anbar - in Ramadi, in Haditha, in Falluja, by a sniper, by a roadside bomb, or as with Lisk, by a mortar shell.

In the first 28 days of June, 28 soldiers and marines were killed here.

In small ways, the military tries to ensure that individual soldiers like Lisk are not forgotten in the plenitude of death.

One way is to say goodbye to the body of a fallen comrade as it leaves for the United States.

Here in Anbar, the bodies of Americans are taken first by helicopter to Camp Anaconda, the big logistical base north of Baghdad, and then on to the United States. Most helicopter traffic in Anbar, for security reasons, takes place at night. Hence the darkness.

In the minutes after the mortar shell exploded, everyone hoped that Lisk would live. Although he was not breathing, the medics got to him right away, and the hospital was not far.

"What's his name?" asked Colonel Sean MacFarland, commander of the 4,000-soldier 1st Brigade.

"Lisk, sir," someone replied.

"If he can be saved, they'll save him," said MacFarland, who had been only few meters away in an armored personal carrier when the mortar shell landed.

About 10 minutes later, the word came. "He's dead," MacFarland said.

Whenever a soldier dies, a wave of uneasiness - fear, revulsion, guilt, sadness - ripples through the survivors. It could be felt Monday, even when the fighting was still going on.

"He was my best friend," Specialist Allan Sammons said, his lower lip shaking.

"That's all I can say. I'm kind of shaken up."

Another soldier asked, "You want to take a break?"

Sammons said, "I'll be fine," his lip still shaking.

Lisk's friends and superiors recalled a man who had risen from a difficult childhood to become someone who they counted on for good cheer in a grim and uncertain place. "He was a special kid," Sammons said of Lisk.

Hours later, at the landing zone, the helicopter descended.

Without lights, in the darkness, it was just a grayish glow. It was a Vietnam-era, double-rotor Chinook. With its engines still whirring, it lowered its back door.

The six solders walked out to the chopper and lifted Lisk's body into the Chinook. The door went back up. The helicopter flew away. The soldiers saluted a final time. In the darkness, as the sound of the helicopter faded, Colonel MacFarland addressed his soldiers.

"I don't know if this war is worth the life of Terry Lisk, or 10 soldiers, or 2,500 soldiers like him," he said. "What I do know is that he did not die alone. He was surrounded by friends."

"A Greek philosopher said that only the dead have seen the end of war," he continued. "Only Terry Lisk has seen the end of this war."

The soldiers turned and walked back to their barracks in the darkness. No one said a word.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune