Sunday, August 05, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 5th edition

August 5, 2003: A soldier scans the traffic from his position in front of the Palestine hotel in Baghdad after a hand grenade was lobbed from a passing car.

August 5, 2002:

Pentagon preparing to mount Iraq attack

Despite an intensifying debate over military action against Iraq, the U.S. military is moving troops, equipment and communications gear into the region in an indication that President Bush may order an attack within months to drive Saddam Hussein from power.

Pentagon officials decline to discuss troop movements, but there is little doubt among defense experts and a former commander with combat experience in Iraq that military leaders are laying the groundwork for an assault sometime next year should Bush order it.

Among the indications of attack preparations, according to experts:

-- Army Gen. Tommy Franks has moved the headquarters of the Third Army to Kuwait from Fort McPherson, Ga. The Third Army would form the backbone of any invasion force.

-- Army units in Kuwait include so-called quartering parties -- soldiers who plan the logistics required for the arrival of large numbers of other troops.

-- The Army's crack 101st Airborne Division is being withdrawn from Afghanistan and sent back to Fort Campbell, Ky. The 101st is an air assault division that can deploy anywhere within 36 hours.

"This is a logical thing to do in the context of a coming campaign," said retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, former chief Middle East intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. "To go to Kuwait, then to Baghdad and beyond, you need high mobility, and the air mobile division should be brought together in its entirety to participate in that"...

Recently the military has moved communications gear, including a sophisticated air operations center, to Qatar and built up forces and hangars at Qatar's al-Udeid air base. The base has a 15,000-foot runway, the longest in the region, that can accommodate the Air Force's largest transport planes.

In addition, the U.S. Maritime Administration, which monitors the fleet of cargo ships that would be needed to ship heavy Army weaponry overseas, is closely examining the condition of that fleet to ensure they are ready for duty.

Retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, former commander of NATO, says troop movements, especially around the Persian Gulf states of Kuwait and Qatar, are the normal positioning of forces given ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. However, he said, "they are also prudent in case there is a mission of attacking Iraq."

The Army has about 20,000 soldiers mainly in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The Navy and Marine Corps maintain headquarters staff in Bahrain with nearly 3,000 personnel, while the Air Force has several air bases in the region including a headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Another 12,000-plus military personnel, including Marines and sailors, are spread across several warships in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

In addition, the Army and Marine Corps have had considerable amounts of equipment already positioned in the region since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, including tanks and other armor.

Operation Desert Storm, which drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991, required a six-month build-up of forces and more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel. But various battle concepts under consideration call for attack forces ranging up to about 250,000 troops and presumably would require far less time to move to the region.

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle

August 5, 2003:

Arab nations refuse to recognize Iraq's Governing Council

Arab League members decided Tuesday not to recognize Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, saying they will wait until a government is elected.

Arab officials welcomed the council's creation as a first step toward new leadership in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. But the decision Tuesday showed that Arab governments are keeping some distance from the body — dismissed by many in Iraq and across the Arab world as a puppet of Iraq's U.S. and British occupiers.

The decision means Iraq's seat at the 22-member Arab League will remain empty for the time being.

"The council is a start, but it should pave the way for a legitimate government that can be recognized," league Secretary-General Amr Moussa said after a committee of foreign ministers met to forge a unified stance on how to deal with Iraq.

The top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said in late July that general elections could be held in Iraq within a year to replace the council.

The Iraqi Governing Council did not send representatives to Tuesday's meeting in Cairo. Council members had bristled at earlier hints from Moussa that the Arab League would not embrace it.

"We don't want to go where we are not welcome," council member Naseer Kamel al-Chaderchi told Qatar's al-Jazeera television last month. No immediate comment was available Tuesday from the Governing Council in Baghdad.

Last month, members of the council appeared before the U.N. Security council, but were not granted a seat at the United Nations...

The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council held its first meeting July 13 and later named a nine-member presidency. It has the power to name ministers and approve the 2004 budget, but final control of Iraq still rests with Bremer.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 5, 2004:

IRR call-up puts lives in disarray

Rick Howell thought his military career ended seven years ago. Then, last month, a telegram ordered him to report for duty on Aug. 31 for what surely will be at least a year in Iraq.

The timing couldn't be worse.

The 47-year-old retired helicopter test pilot will have to leave home 27 days before his wife is due to give birth to their first child. He'll also leave behind a half-finished house and two aging parents.

Howell is one of thousands of former soldiers in the Individual Ready Reserve who can be plucked from retirement and civilian life to fill the ranks of an Army taxed by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The IRR is an infrequently used pool of former soldiers who can be called to duty in a national emergency or war.

Some go into the IRR to complete their commitment to the armed forces. Others, including some officers, stay in the IRR voluntarily to boost their pensions or remain eligible for career opportunities.

In January, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized the Army to mobilize up to 6,500 IRR soldiers. The Army has identified 5,672 IRR soldiers for call-up and has notified about 2,100 of them so far.

"We are in a time of war, and we need our well-trained soldiers. These are seasoned soldiers, not new recruits, so they can be mobilized quickly," says Human Resources Command spokeswoman Andrea Wales.

The IRR call-up is one of a number of measures taken to shore up the forces in the war on terrorism.

The Pentagon also has extended tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, barred soldiers who are already deployed from leaving even if they reach the end of their enlistment contract or their retirement date, and called up large numbers of reservists and National Guard troops.

"They've used almost every trick in the book to keep people in, to extend them well beyond their expectations," says Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has been critical of postwar planning by the Bush administration. "It's desperation."

Jeremy Broussard, 27, of Bowie, Md., was not allowed to leave the military after he completed four years of active duty. Due to become inactive in May 2003, he had planned to begin law school last fall at Tulane University in New Orleans. Instead, he had to stay in the Army until November 2003.

Broussard begins law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., this fall. But he remains eligible for the IRR recall because as an officer he can be recalled until he reaches retirement age or resigns his commission. "As a soldier, I would say this is a sign of desperation and a lack of postwar planning," Broussard says.

Howell, of Cottondale, Ala., says he, too, feels like a victim of poor planning. He retired as a major in 1997, returned to Alabama, got married in 2000, and set about having a family. As an officer, however, he is subject to call-up until he has 28 years of service, reaches mandatory retirement age or resigns his commission.

Howell served as a maintenance test pilot and aviation logistics officer during 16 years of active duty and is considered 20% disabled from a back injury. When he goes back, he'll be a supply officer.

"They are just looking for bodies to fill slots," he says. "This thing has gone bad quick, and they are just trying to put bodies on the ground."

Some former soldiers feel blindsided because military recruiters downplay IRR duty, casting it as a pool tapped only in dire circumstances, says Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Operation Truth, a non-profit advocacy group for soldiers.

Mass call-ups are rare. The military usually uses the IRR to meet a need for a particular specialty, such as pilots or dentists. In this instance, however, the military says 20% of the call-ups are truck drivers, 12% are supply specialists who can use a computer to track supplies, 10% are Humvee mechanics, 7% are administrative specialists and 6% are combat engineers.

Smaller numbers of cooks, carpenters, cable system installers and petroleum supply specialists have also been called to duty.

"It's pretty much the last thing you've got before the draft," says Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader who served in Iraq and left the military in March. "You need grunts, foot soldiers; you need boots on the ground. They are going to the IRR because they are out of troops."

Jon Stach of Peoria, Ill., is one of those truck drivers who is so in demand. His call-up orders came July 16.

But Stach's wife, Tanya, a military reservist, is already serving as a truck driver in northern Iraq. If he reports for duty Aug. 31, there will be nobody to watch their three children. It could also mean that he and his wife will go 2½ years without seeing each other.

Stach, 34,who enlisted in the military in 1988, left active duty in 1996 and joined the reserves. When the run-up to the Iraq war began in December 2002, the Stachs decided he would quit the reserves and enter the IRR so their children wouldn't be left without a parent in the event of a call-up.

His wife's civilian job, as a personnel administrator for the Army Reserve, required that she remain in the reserves.

"My impression of the IRR was that the chance of me being called up was next to none," says Jon Stach, a manager at Circuit City.

"I never once thought I would be called up to police an invaded country," he says.

Some IRR soldiers are already in Iraq.

Steve Smith of Kent, Ohio, a first lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers, served six years in the Ohio Army National Guard and three years in the IRR. Smith, 30, left active duty in January 2001 and started his own business as a software consultant. He was recalled May 22.

"There is no part of my life that is not disrupted," Smith said in an e-mail interview. His wife, Michelle, runs their business alone while taking care of their 2-year-old daughter.

In Iraq, Smith leads a mechanized combat engineer platoon that disposes of enemy weapons, mortars, mines, rockets and ammunition. He said the call-up is an indication that the active-duty force isn't large enough to handle U.S. commitments abroad.

"Congress is having to fight the Pentagon to get them to increase the number of active-duty soldiers, which just seems completely backward to me," Smith said.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 5, 2005:

Reserve casualties in Iraq hit Ohio town hard

This blue-collar suburb of Cleveland has sent many of its children to war, and it is no stranger to death. But this week was harder than just about any in memory, many people said.

On Monday, five marines from a reserve battalion that has its headquarters here were killed in an ambush in western Iraq. Days later, the names of the dead were still trickling out, leaving hundreds of residents in anguish about friends and loved ones.

In Brook Park, almost everyone knows someone in the war. For nearly 36 hours, Mayor Mark Elliott wondered about one of his best friend's sons. George Sakellakis, a police officer, worried about a colleague on the force. And Helen Keller's stomach tied itself into knots every time she thought about the reservists she had baked cookies for, sent care packages to and coddled like a surrogate mother over the years.

If their worst fears did not come true, others were not so fortunate. The dead included marines like Corporal Jeffrey Boskovitch, 25, the oldest of three children in a Polish family, who grew up in nearby Parma, Ohio, and was quarterback on the Normandy High School football team there.

"We didn't have a chance to tell him to his face that he did a great job," said his uncle, Paul Boskovitch.

Then more bad news arrived Wednesday: Fourteen marines in the same battalion, the Third of the 25th Marine Regiment, were killed when an explosive device ripped apart their armored troop carrier in western Iraq. While they were attached to a company based in Columbus, Ohio, the fact that they were part of the same battalion hit Brook Park like a follow-up punch. "It's all family," said Keller, 64, herself the wife of a former marine. "Even if they don't know the person who has died, people here feel like it was their brother."

Although most of the reservists killed did not live in Brook Park, a city of 21,000 near the Cleveland airport, many had become recognizable in town, marching in Memorial Day parades, working out at the city recreation center, eating breakfast at the Place to Be Deli across Smith Road from their headquarters.

Boskovitch joined the Marine Reserves in 2000, and he was not nervous about going to war when the battalion deployed to Iraq in January, his uncle said. Boskovitch believed strongly he was helping the Iraqi people. But he also wrote e-mail messages home in recent weeks expressing concerns about an influx of foreign fighters into Iraq.

"He said: 'Things are changing here. There are faces I have not seen, and there's a different attitude,"' Boskovitch's uncle said. He said Boskovitch had been engaged to a longtime girlfriend and they were thinking about being married after he returned from Iraq, in October, they hoped.

The other marines killed in the town of Haditha on Monday included David Coullard, 32, of Glastonbury, Connecticut; Lance Corporal Daniel Deyarmin Jr., 22, of Tallmadge, Ohio; Lance Corporal Brian Montgomery, 26, of Willoughby, Ohio; and Sergeant Nathaniel Rock, 26, of Toronto, Ohio. A sixth marine who died with the group, Lance Corporal Roger Castleberry Jr., 26, of Austin, Texas, was attached to a different battalion.

Although the 3rd Battalion has lost nearly 50 marines in the Iraq war, this week was by far the deadliest for the unit.

Rock's sister, Nicole Sneaghen, said that as a teenager he was fascinated by the Marines, asking her husband, also a marine, to bring him camouflage pants, ready-to-eat meals and face paint so he could play war with friends in the woods. "He was born to be a marine," she said. "He loved everything about it."

Rock planned to start a full-time job with the police department in Martins Ferry, Ohio, when he returned from Iraq this autumn, she said. He wrote home frequently, assuring her that he would be safe.

"We knew the consequences of him going, but it's still the worst thing that can happen to any family," Sneaghen said. "He was so young and talked about coming home and finding a girlfriend and getting married and having babies."

Coullard joined the Marine Corps in 1994 after graduating from high school in Glastonbury, Connecticut, said his mother, Anita Dziedzic. While in the reserves, he worked installing heating and air-conditioning systems. But he seemed to crave action, Dziedzic said, and he became a sniper who was shot twice in earlier actions. "He was a trouper," she said, alternating between tears and smiles as she recalled her only son. "I was kind of in charge of his PR, of getting him the recognition he deserved since he'd never seek it himself."

Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Rush, 40, the senior officer at the battalion headquarters in Brook Park, said marines there had set aside their shock and grief to do their jobs. "Everyone who joined this battalion knew what they were getting into," he said. "Marines are the tip of the spear. The people we shoot at are going to shoot back."

Sakellakis, 27, said he had several friends who had deployed to Iraq, including one with the 3rd Battalion, and that he thought they had been deeply shaken by the wave of death this week. But Sakellakis, a former army reservist who deployed to Iraq at the start of the war, said he also believed it was easier to look beyond one's grief on the battlefield than it was for people back home.

"There, they have to go out and do their job the next day," he said. "Here, we have time to think about it, which I think makes it much worse."

Elliott, the mayor, said that for all the town's experience with war, the death toll this week had shed a harsh new light on Iraq, bringing home bloodshed that had seemed distant to some. For that reason, he said he thought some residents might begin to question the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

"When it hits home this much, I would expect people to say, 'How many more lives do we have to lose before we get our troops back home?"' he said.

Charles Keller, a former marine and the husband of Helen Keller, said he also worried that people would turn against the war effort. But opposing the war now would dishonor the sacrifice of the marines from the 3rd Battalion, he said.

"We don't want our guys over there, either," he said. "But what are you going to do? We're either going to have to fight the terrorists over there, or fight 'em over here."

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

August 5, 2006:

Hearing to begin for five U.S. soldiers in Mahmoudiya rape-slaying

The stress of military duty in Iraq is expected to be at the core of defense arguments when a hearing opens Sunday to determine whether five American soldiers should be tried in the rape-slaying of a 14-year-old girl.

Three of the girl's relatives also were killed in the town of Mahmoudiya on March 12, which is among the worst incidents in a series of cases alleging U.S. troops killed or abused Iraqi civilians.

The soldiers in the Mahmoudiya case — Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard — are charged with conspiring to rape the girl along with former Pfc. Steven D. Green, who was arrested in North Carolina in June.

A fifth soldier from the same unit, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.

The Article 32 hearing, the civilian equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, will decide whether there is enough evidence to convene a court-martial for the five soldiers. Green has pleaded not guilty in federal court and is being held without bond.

According to an FBI affidavit, the soldiers drank alcohol before abandoning their checkpoint, changed clothes and headed to the victims' house, about 200 yards from a U.S. military checkpoint in a Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad.

The soldiers are also accused of setting fire to the girl's body to destroy evidence.

David Sheldon, Barker's Washington-based attorney, has said the stressful environment in the Mahmoudiya area — known in Iraq as the "Triangle of Death" — contributed to the way the soldiers behaved.

Their unit, the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, suffered months of bombings and shootings that felled dozens of comrades, leaving soldiers of every rank emotionally ragged and strained.

"When you're in battle for a sustained period of time, there's certainly a numbing effect as to how one responds in any one situation," Sheldon said, referring to Barker's two combat tours in Iraq, during which he saw friends and other soldiers in his unit killed.

U.S. officials are concerned the case will strain relations with Iraq's new government if Iraqis perceive the soldiers receive lenient treatment. The case has already increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

U.S. officials have assured Iraqis that the case will be pursued vigorously and that the soldiers will be punished if convicted. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has demanded an independent investigation into the case.

The hearing is expected to last several days, and parts will be held in secret, including testimony from Iraqi witnesses. The restriction was imposed after an appeal by the trial counsel to protect witnesses, who could be at risk if they are seen as collaborating with the Americans.

Iraqi authorities identified the rape victim as Abeer Qassim Hamza. The other victims were her father, Qassim Hamza; her mother, Fikhriya Taha; and her sister, Hadeel Qassim Hamza.

Read the rest at USA Today

Soldier Charged in Iraq Was a 'Drifter'

Football coach Jimmy Isclaw stopped at a gas station to refuel his car and noticed the familiar face of a skinny kid who played for him a few years back.

Isclaw hadn't seen Steven Green since he played freshman football at Alvarado High School in 2000. An unpredictable kid from a broken home, Green spent only one year in this small town 60 miles outside Dallas before moving again, dropping out of high school and joining the Army.

"He was being dropped off to visit some buddies and he didn't even have a change of clothes," Isclaw recalled. "He asked if he could use the field house to shower."

Green was gone the next day and it was two more years before Isclaw saw him again — in news stories this summer about Green being charged with the murder of an Iraqi family and the rape of a young girl.

The arrest came six weeks after the Army had discharged Green, a private with the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Ky., for an "anti-social personality disorder." He remains in federal custody awaiting arraignment.

"I feel for the kid," Isclaw said. "I'm not a military guy. I don't know the ways they are taught. But did we train (Green) to become a killer?"

Known among classmates as "the drifter" from Midland, the West Texas oil town where Green lived off and on with his father, Green came to Alvarado at age 14 to live with his father's brother.

He landed a spot on the freshman football team as a wide receiver and defensive back, and during the first week of practice he got into a fight with teammate Jerry Poehlein, who head-butted Green and bloodied his nose.

No one remembers what caused the fight but they do remember Green's reaction: He spent all day at school with a bloodied white T-shirt but refused to rat out his teammate, simply telling coaches and teachers that he got bloody noses all the time.

"There was no reason for me to do that to him and him not tell on me," Poehlein said. "From that first week you could see he was loyal."

Teammate Cody Ray soon befriended Green.

"Nobody ever talked to him, but he eventually talked to everybody," he said.

"At first I felt sorry for him; nobody seemed to want him, so I befriended him. After a couple of months, he was one of my good buddies, so it wasn't me feeling sorry for him anymore," said Ray.

Green constantly sought ways to get noticed. He produced constant laughter with bizarre dances, kicking his gangly legs like a scarecrow come to life. He repeatedly crushed soda cans on his forehead until he bled. He told off-color jokes.

Classmates and coaches said Green didn't talk much about his family life. Both parents have misdemeanor convictions on alcohol-related traffic violations and they divorced when Green was 4, according to court documents.

Green's father, John Green, who works in the oil industry, sent his son to Alvarado because he thought a new town would give the teen a fresh start, classmates said.

John Green would not talk to The Associated Press, on his attorney's advice. Neither John Green's brother, David, with whom the teen lived for the year, nor Steven Green's mother, Roxanne Simolke Carr, could be located for comment.

Away from school, Green sought stability and adult acceptance. He spent significant time with Ray's family, joining them for dinner, birthday parties and trips to nearby Fort Worth. He never finished a home-cooked meal without saying thank you, and he volunteered to take out the trash or help with dishes, said Ray's mother, Joni Ray.

"He wasn't someone who said, 'poor pitiful me; I got a raw deal,' never anything like that," Joni Ray said. "But I could tell he didn't get many home-cooked meals before he came here."

Classmates and coaches said nothing about Green as a teen indicated he was capable of the violence alleged in the charges.

"The first thing I thought of was, what a shame," former Alvarado coach Joe Hough said. "Maybe he was starved for attention — in fact, he definitely was — but he wasn't crazy."

"That doesn't sound like anything he would do," said Joni Ray. "I still can't believe it."

Green left Alvarado after the school year when his uncle was transferred to a job in Oklahoma. He returned to his father's home in Midland, spending a year at an alternative high school before dropping out altogether.

Green occasionally returned to Alvarado for unexpected visits, or sent e-mails or Internet instant messages, but most lost touch with him after he joined the Army and was sent to Iraq last year.

Lindsay Walraven, a former classmate now attending the University of North Texas, said by e-mail that she heard from Green earlier this year via instant messaging and through

"I still felt sorry for him because he seemed depressed," she wrote.

Classmates and coaches said they had not communicated with Green since his arrest, but Isclaw says he's working on a letter.

"I'd like for the kid to know that you can screw up and there might be a big price to pay, but who is to judge?" Isclaw said. "He needs some positive words. What I would tell the kid is, don't ever give up."

Read the rest at the San Francisco Chronicle