Friday, July 13, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 13th edition

July 13, 2006: An Iraqi army soldier from the 4th Infantry Division salutes his commanding officer during the pass and review portion of a turn over of authority ceremony at Forward Operating Base O'Ryan.

July 13, 2002:

Wolfowitz to discuss Iraq in Turkey

The Pentagon's No. 2 official will visit Turkey next week to discuss Iraq with the NATO ally, which could play a key role if the United States tries to force Saddam Hussein from power.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will be joined in Ankara by the top U.S. military commander in the region and a State Department official for the talks with Turkish political and military leaders.

Wolfowitz's trip comes amid continued calls by President Bush for Saddam's removal and the possibility of military action. Bush accuses the Iraqi president of hoarding chemical and biological weapons and trying to obtain nuclear bombs.

Turkey, which borders Iraq on the north, would be an important ally if the United States were to go to war. U.S. jets patrolling the no-fly zone over northern Iraq use the Turkish base at Incirlik, a staging area for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Wolfowitz will fly to the Turkish capital Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and other military and political leaders.

The 77-year-old prime minister is in poor health, and his government is teetering. Seven Cabinet members resigned this week, and defections from Ecevit's party drove it from the largest in parliament to the third-largest.

Political instability in Turkey could make it more difficult for political leaders to support, at least publicly, any U.S. military action against Iraq. Ecevit's government has opposed widening the war on terrorism to include an attack on Iraq.

One obstacle is Turkey's fears that toppling Saddam could lead Iraqi Kurds to form an independent state in what is now northern Iraq. That, in turn, could encourage demands for more autonomy among Turkey's Kurds, chafing under restrictions, such as a ban on teaching their language.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 13, 2003:

Iraq Cost Could Mount to $100 Billion

The cost of the war and occupation of Iraq could reach $100 billion through next year, substantially higher than anticipated at the war's outset, according to defense and congressional aides. This is raising worries that other military needs will go unmet while the government is swamped in red ink.

The cost of the war so far, about $50 billion, already represents a 14 percent increase to military spending planned for this year. Even before the United States invaded Iraq in March, President Bush had proposed defense budgets through 2008 that would rise to $460 billion a year, up 74 percent from the $265 billion spent on defense in 1996, when the current buildup began.

At the same time, the federal budget deficit is exploding. This week, officials expect to announce that it will exceed $400 billion for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, the largest in U.S. history by a wide margin. Former White House budget director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. said last month the deficit should be smaller next year, but economists at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- factoring rising war costs -- said Friday the deficit may climb even higher than their previous $475 billion estimate.

"It's already unclear whether [the Bush defense buildup] is sustainable," said Steven M. Kosiak, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "Add another $50 billion, and it's doubly unclear."

Administration officials concede that spending levels in Iraq are considerably higher than anticipated. At the onset of war, Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's chief financial officer, said post-combat operations were expected to cost about $2.2 billion a month. By early June, he had adjusted that forecast to $3 billion. But with about 145,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, some under fire, costs have continued to climb.

The average monthly "burn rate" from January to April, a span encompassing the "heavy combat" phase of the war, was $4.1 billion, Zakheim said. That is not much higher than current expenditure rate of $3.9 billion a month for the occupation, even though most of the Navy and Air Force contingents have been sent home.

"We've peaked out," Zakheim said, "but we are still there in a way that we perhaps didn't think we would be at this point."

Defense experts worry that the cost of actual operations in Iraq understates the impact of those operations on military and federal spending. Indirect costs of a protracted conflict could include new funding for military recruiting and the retention of exhausted troops ready to leave the services, Kosiak said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 13, 2004:

Saudi Arabia acknowledges its citizens may have infiltrated Iraq

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef has acknowledged for the first time that Saudi militants may have gone to neighboring Iraq to fight against the U.S.-led occupation force.

Previously, Saudi officials have vehemently denied fighters were leaving the oil-rich desert kingdom and close U.S. ally to fight in Iraq.

"Surely, there are Saudis (in Iraq)," the prince told reporters late Monday. "But the number, and how (they got in to Iraq) is not available to us now."

Hundreds of such militants, the minister said, are detained in Saudi custody and some have been tried and convicted. He did not say how many were arrested or provide a number for those convicted, but Prince Nayef said more trials would be held.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

July 13, 2005:

Not Enough Caskets for the Iraqi Dead

Coffin makers are unable to keep up with the demand for caskets in Iraq where tens of people die every day due to the continual armed attacks and bombings.

While casket prices increased due to the ever increasing demand, it is impossible to find caskets for the bodies of the poor and homeless. The price of a coffin varies from between $35 and $50 in Bagdat (Baghdad), in a city where one person dies every hour. Caskets have become a major necessity of the country due to the increasing number of deaths. Although around 10 or 15 caskets are constructed per day, they are still not able to supply enough caskets to keep up with demands, say coffin makers, one of them, Abbas Hussein said: "Not everyone in Baghdad has the money to buy a coffin. People have difficulty earning their living, how will they find money for a coffin? Poor people bury their relatives using the coffins that individuals have donated to the mosques."

Read the rest at Turkish Weekly

July 13, 2006:

Every pile of trash can be deadly to GIs in Iraq

When U.S. soldiers take to the road, most pray they avoid the roadside bombs that seem to explode every day in Iraq. Sergeant First Class Timothy Faust has a very different goal: He hopes to find them.

Faust's Demon Platoon has the "route clearing" mission for Company A, Task Force 1-36. That is the somewhat understated description of an operation that involves driving into a veritable no man's land in Anbar Province to uncover mines, artillery shells and all manner of explosive devices, often under sniper fire.

The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars on technology to counter the bombs, which the insurgents have continued to install at a furious rate. But as seen on a recent trip with Demon Platoon to Hit, a garbage-strewn city of 40,000, detecting the bombs is often a matter of memorizing the location of trash heaps, bomb craters, dirt mounds and construction sites.

A vivid example occurred as Faust interviewed an Iraqi shopkeeper about who might have planted several mines that were found the night before. Nearby, a member of his platoon noted a fresh pile of debris. "That was not here before," Sergeant John Martin said.

Faust looked at the pile through his rifle scope and yelled, "Get out of here!" With that, the soldiers, the shopkeeper and a reporter and a photographer for The New York Times scampered around the corner toward the platoon's Humvees.

An hour and a sniper attack later, a U.S. Army explosive-ordnance team drove up in a huge armored truck and directed a small robot to place C-4 plastic explosives on the pile. The soldiers plugged their ears as the blast thundered through the city streets and a fountain of flame shot into the sky.

Observing the ball of fire, Faust reported on the radio that his platoon had found an IED, as the soldiers call them, short for improvised explosive device. Most likely, explosives had been packed into an acetylene tank to magnify the power of the blast. It was the 71st bomb or mine the platoon had uncovered since it arrived in Hit in February.

Hidden bombs have become the insurgents' primary weapon, and the number of explosives they plant is an important measure of their activity and determination to fight. The number is on the rise nationwide.

In June, there were 1,481 IED attacks throughout Iraq and 903 instances in which the bombs were found and neutralized, according to figures compiled by the U.S. military. That is a sharp increase since January, when there were 834 such attacks and 620 cases in which the bombs were found before they exploded.

Many soldiers rate an explosion from one of the bombs as the war's most frightening experience.

"It jerks you around," said Private Daniel Rullo, a medic with Company A. "You squeeze your hands to make sure you are still alive. Lots of times the vehicles fill up with smoke. It is the worst feeling out here, worse than getting shot."

The battle between the insurgents and the U.S. forces is a grim contest of measure and countermeasure. Armored Humvees and other defensive measures have considerably improved the Americans' ability to survive the bomb attacks.

In addition to Kevlar helmets and body armor, each soldier is equipped with special gear to protect against bombs: glasses that deflect flying debris, fire-resistant gloves and combat earplugs. The insurgents have responded to the U.S. protective measures by stepping up the frequency and power of the bombings.

The bunk next to Rullo's lies empty. It was occupied by another medic, Private First Class Nolan Howell, who was returning in an armored Humvee from a Demon Platoon mission when he was wounded by shrapnel from a planted bomb. Three artillery shells had been stacked in a mound so that the blast would be channeled to the side of the vehicle.

Iraq had a vast arsenal of weapons before the war, few of which were adequately guarded in the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad. The insurgents have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of artillery shells, mortars and other explosives for making the bombs.

Reflecting the insurgents' inventiveness, the bombs in Hit come in a wide variety. Some are connected by wires to a detonator or triggered by electronic signals. Then there are bombs and mines that are set to explode when a vehicle drives over them.

The task force is trying to pinpoint the insurgents who are planting the bombs and has conducted raids to find them. But as soon as one insurgent cell is broken up, another seems to move in. The level of bomb attacks has been generally constant in the Hit area since February. But there appear to be more strikes in the city and fewer on some of the major routes leading in and out.

Either way, what the troops call route clearing is as busy a mission as ever. Demon Platoon notes proudly that it finds about 80 percent of the concealed bombs on its routes.

The other week, Faust was knocked flat on his back when an IED exploded just moments after he had tossed a few lights on the ground to identify the location for the explosive-ordnance team.

It is a team effort, however, with plenty of risk to go around. Specialist Travis Tiffany has endured two explosions in less than a month but never hesitates, Faust says, "to go outside the wire" of his army base.

Early Saturday morning, before finding the bomb, Faust and a team of soldiers in four Humvees left Company A's base, a dilapidated train station on the outskirts of Hit. The platoon, preparing for a mission to clear a route, halted in front of a blue mosque.

Someone had spied a filled-in crater, either an IED or a resident's attempt to fix the road, and Faust could not take any chances. Snipers fired three rounds as the soldiers waited for a team to arrive and blow up the crater. As the platoon drove on, it approached the street where several mines had been detected the night before.

The soldiers got out to talk to local residents, while a nearby Iraqi maintenance crew worked unperturbed on a broken water main. Its truck displayed a white flag.

That's when Martin noticed the unfamiliar stack of debris, and the explosives team returned with its robot to blow up the pile. The large blast and wall of fire that followed provided confirmation that the platoon had found what it was looking for.

"Now that, gentlemen, was an IED," Faust said, with obvious satisfaction.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune