Friday, September 07, 2007

Perspective: On this day in Iraq -- September 7th edition

September 7, 2006: Children gather around a soldier from the 1st Armored Division during a presence patrol in Tal Afar.

September 7, 2002:

Bush and Blair prepare case against Iraq

President George W. Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair met on Saturday to prepare their case for a strike on Iraq to the United Nations, calling on the international community to live up to its responsibility to the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair, meeting for three hours at Camp David, were understood to be working on a strategy to win international backing for any attack.

The British prime minister delivered something of an ultimatum to the UN, saying that the "UN should be a means of dealing with this issue, not a away of avoiding dealing with it", citing a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency which raised concerns about Iraq's possible construction of nuclear weapons.

Although the evidence presented by both leaders was neither clear or altogether new, Mr Bush and Mr Blair argued that the threat posed by Mr Hussein was clear.

The US president said that Mr Hussein "is a man who said he was going to get rid of weapons of mass destruction and for 11 long years he has not fulfilled his promise".

Read the rest at Financial Times

Raid a prelude to assault on Baghdad

About 100 American and British aircraft have taken part in an attack on Iraq's major western air defence installation in the biggest single operation over the country for four years.

Thursday's raid appeared to be a prelude to the type of softening-up operations that would have to begin weeks before an American-led war.

It was launched two days before a war summit between US President George Bush and Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, in America. Mr Blair promised that Britain would be alongside the Americans "when the shooting starts".

The raid seemed designed to destroy Iraqi air defences and allow easy access for special forces helicopters to fly into the country via Jordan or Saudi Arabia. They would take out Scud missiles before a war began in earnest. Although only 12 aircraft dropped precision-guided bombs on to the H3 airfield, 386 kilometres west of Baghdad, many support aircraft took part.

Any war on Iraq is likely to begin with a gradual intensification of attacks on air defences.

As well as blinding radar to any special forces helicopters, the loss of the H3 installation would allow allied aircraft mounting major raids a trouble-free route into Iraq.

The strikes were carried out by nine American F-15 Strike Eagles and three RAF Tornado GR-4 ground attack aircraft flying from Kuwait.

In a further sign that America was preparing for war, a Pentagon official confirmed that heavy armour, ammunition and other equipment had been moved to Kuwait from huge stores in Qatar. Thomas White, the Army Secretary, said: "We have done a lot with pre-positioned stocks in the Gulf, making sure that they are in the right spot to support whatever the President wants to do."

The Pentagon said the raid was launched in "response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone". Iraq had made 130 attempts to shoot down coalition aircraft this year.

The attack on what the American central command described as an "air defence command and control facility" was the first time that a target in western Iraq had been attacked during the patrols of the southern no-fly zone. Until now, all strikes had been against air defence sites in the south, around Basra, Amara, Nassairya and Baghdad.

Central command said it was still assessing the damage caused by the attack. If the air defence installation is not destroyed, a second raid is expected.

Mr Bush, speaking in Louisville, Kentucky, said that, besides having talks with Mr Blair, he would be meeting the leaders of France, Russia, China and Canada over the next few days. He would tell them that "history has called us into action" to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Mr Bush said he was looking forward to the talks, but suggested that the US could do the job on its own if need be. "I am a patient man," he said. "I've got tools; we've got tools at our disposal.

"We cannot let the world's worst leaders blackmail, threaten, hold freedom-loving nations hostage with the world's worst weapons."

Read the rest at the Age

September 7, 2003:

What Went Wrong In Iraq?

Five months ago, American and British troops rode into Iraq like conquering heroes, planning to be liberators, not occupiers.

But these early hopes have been dashed by the constant attacks that have taken 287 American lives, including 70 combat deaths since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1.

Mr. Bush, who will discussing Iraq and the terrorism fight in a nationally televised address from the White House on Sunday night, will ask for more sacrifice from the American people.

Laith Kubba, worked with 200 professional Iraqi exiles for a year to devise a State Department plan to rebuild Iraq ahead of the invasion. He says their plan was shelved when the Defense Department took control of reconstruction away from the State Department just before the war started.

Kubba says he cannot believe the plans he and his fellow exiles devised were ignored. “I’m just puzzled,” he says. The Iraqis expected the United States to take charge and have a plan when they arrived, but with the first week “they realized that there is nobody in charge,” he says.

Instead of moving in immediately and taking control, the United States stood by while government offices were systematically trashed.

Kubba says, “We had all the ministries that had all the records on everybody and by seizing those ministries we would have had the keys to running Iraq. We should have kept and called upon all the people in the bureaucracies to report back to work from day one because those people are accustomed to order."

Instead of order, Iraq swirled into chaos.

The Defense Department had predicted that by now the Iraqi would be well on their way to self- government, and troop levels would be down to 30,000. Instead, America still has 140,000 in place. It's costing the United States a billion dollars a week to keep them there. The number of soldiers who have died since the end of hostilities is now higher than the number killed during the fighting, and every day it seems the number goes up.

On August 19, a car bomb killed 23 people at the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters.

A week later, the moderate cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al Hakim was blown to bits along with at least 84 others outside the main Shiite mosque in Najaf, minutes after begging worshippers to cooperate with U.S. forces.

The United States won the war, but Iraqis blame America for failing to bring peace.

James Dobbins, who supervised U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia, has co-authored a new study released by the Rand Corporation, reviewing 70 years of America's efforts at nation building.

Dobbins says inadequate resources is biggest reason the nation-building effort in Iraq is going poorly.

“All the evidence suggests that there is an inverse relationship between the number of troops you commit to an operation like this and the number of casualties you sustain,” he says, meaning the more troops, the fewer casualties.

The Rand study says history shows 20 troops per 1000 residents are required to maintain stability. Iraq's population is 25 million, so that works out to roughly three times the number of security forces in place there now.

“Some people are saying, we don't need more troops, we just need different types of troops. Another strain is saying, no, we don't need more American troops, we need more multinational troops,” says Dobbins. “We need more of all of them, and in combination we need to reach a figure close to 500,000.”

But the United States doesn’t have more troops. In a report released Wednesday, the Congressional Budget office says the United States can’t even sustain its current numbers in Iraq past March without jeopardizing other operations like Afghanistan or Bosnia.

John Hamre, a former comptroller of the Defense Department, was handpicked by Donald Rumsfeld to tour Iraq just a few weeks ago. But Rumsfeld can't be happy with the stories Hamre and his team brought back of organized crime and what he called "industrial strength" looting.

“I have never seen more strain in the military,” says Hamre. “The emotional strain is very difficult.”

“There's been so much copper plundered from the electrical system that it's depressed the price of copper throughout the Middle East,” he continues. “I was told when I was in Iraq, 200,000 barrels of day of oil are still being stolen in the black market.”

Oil revenues, which the Bush administration was counting on the pay for Iraq’s reconstruction, will only be 40% of what the administration had counted on for the foreseeable future.

But there is good news, according to Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in charge of Iraq’s provisional government, such as nearly 40,000 new Iraqi police, and a battalion of the newly formed Iraqi army in training.

But Bremmer is running out of money and time.

“What we have today is ideally what Osama bin Laden would like to see, and that is Iraq, at the heart of the Middle East, an important Muslim country, in chaos,” says Kubba. Kubba considers this ominous new dimension to the Iraq equation a disturbing wake-up call to President Bush.

“I think the challenge he is facing is really beyond hima and I think too big even for America to handle on its own,” he says.

Bush apparently came to the same conclusion. This past week, on his first day back from vacation, he signaled that he would be asking for an additional $60 to $80 billion to pay for Iraq, double the amount Congress was expecting.

And after snubbing the U.N., the Bush administration now finds itself back before the Security Council, hat in hand. The United States is seeking a resolution that would put a large multinational peacekeeping force on the ground in Iraq under U.S. command.

With France and Germany still stewing in their residual ill will toward the United States, getting the resolution passed will be tricky. So far, neither country has been willing to commit troops as long as the United States remains in charge.

If, in the end, the Security Council agrees, it will be recognition of the urgency of the situation in Iraq -- and how very much is at stake.

Dobbins warns, “The longer it deteriorates, the more difficult it becomes to reverse, and the more expensive it becomes to reverse. and I think one would have to say the security situation, on balance is continuing to deteriorate...”

“There is a narrow window, and the window is closing,” adds Hamre. "I think that we're talking months."

Read the rest at CBS News

Monthly costs of Iraq, Afghan wars approach that of Vietnam

The monthly bill for the U.S. military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan now rivals Pentagon spending during the Vietnam War, Defense Department figures show.

The Pentagon is spending nearly $5 billion per month in Iraq and Afghanistan, a pace that would bring yearly costs to almost $60 billion. Those expenses do not include money being spent on rebuilding Iraq's electric grid, water supply and other infrastructure, costs which had no parallel in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the last sustained war the nation fought, the United States spent $111 billion during the eight years of the war, from 1964 to 1972. Adjusted for inflation, that's more than $494 billion, an average of $61.8 billion per year, or $5.15 billion per month.

President Bush announced Sunday that he will ask Congress for $87 billion for U.S. operations next year in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — $66 billion for military and intelligence efforts, $21 billion for reconstruction. Senior administration officials said the request demonstrates that the president's commitment to fighting terrorism would not be shaken by the growing financial burden.

Read the rest at USA Today

Will We Look Like the Soviets When We Leave Iraq?

Well-equipped foreign troops were under daily fire from determined if ragtag guerrillas, and casualties steadily mounted. Much of the world was opposed to the military action, and opposition was especially strong in Muslim countries. Islamic holy warriors were eventually drawn to the fight, bringing funds and increasingly extreme tactics. The occupying forces sought to modernize a traditional Muslim society and do it quickly. They never lost a battle, yet the war wouldn't end.

If this sounds like a description of the challenge facing U.S. forces in postwar Iraq, you're right. But it could just as well describe another war in the same region -- the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.

As the American death count rises in Iraq and efforts to improve life for Iraqis remain limited by the lack of security, the Bush administration is working hard to convince us that we are merely witnessing the untidy death throes of Saddam Hussein's regime. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and others have held up post-World War II Germany and Japan as models for the U.S. occupation in Iraq. The administration's detractors respond by raising the specter of Vietnam or the aborted U.S. military missions in Lebanon and Somalia.

And yet the Soviet experience in Afghanistan -- where a superpower moved in a bold and aggressive way outside its clear sphere of influence into a fractured Muslim nation -- is a more useful model, however different the occupiers' motivations and however different the outcome ultimately may be. And because the Soviets' Afghan occupation ended in disaster for both the occupier and the occupied, it offers lessons that U.S. officials would do well to remember.

I was in Afghanistan as the last Russians left in 1988, departing from their heavily guarded garrisons and quite fearful of being attacked on the way out. By then, the Soviets had managed to do just about everything wrong, having killed more than a million Afghans and turned millions more into refugees. The Soviets had become the enemies of Islam. That they spent billions to modernize Afghanistan and win over Afghans -- soldiers were still tossing candy to kids as they pulled out of Kabul -- meant nothing in the end.

The United States starts its occupation in a much stronger position. The Soviets, after all, were supporting a widely disliked communist Afghan government, while the Americans are offering democracy and reconstruction, which many Iraqis say they want. But both began their occupations convinced that the local population broadly supported them or, in the case of the Soviets, that the locals would be cowed into submission. The Soviets were proven wrong, and the Americans have learned they can't count on the support they thought they had. Top Army officials in Iraq have conceded that they have a "guerrilla war" on their hands -- and the dynamics on the ground for the two occupations begin to look increasingly similar.

Guerrilla wars are fought militarily and, probably more importantly, as a battle for "hearts and minds." So now that the United States is working to both pacify and develop Iraq, its enemies are working equally hard to create havoc and keep Iraq without electric power, without medical supplies and without hope for a peaceful, American-dominated future. To accomplish these goals, Iraqi guerrillas are taking a page from the playbook of the Afghan mujaheddin, who forced the Soviets out of their country.

Strategically, it's a war of a thousand small cuts -- some injuries here, deaths there, and car-bomb blasts to sow fear and terror. Like the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, the Iraqi fighters are blowing up utility lines, attacking locals who help the occupying forces and making life difficult. In a well-known 1983 action against the Soviet occupation, mujaheddin fighters attacked the central bus depot in Kabul, and destroyed 124 Soviet-supplied buses. "Kabul was without bus transportation for a good while," the mujaheddin commander later told the military historian Ali Jalali, who is now Afghan interior minister. Sound familiar?

The parallels stretch into the area of terrorism against civilians. Americans tend to see terrorism now as an unmitigated evil, but the United States also supported (and generously financed) mujaheddin attacks against Afghan and Soviet civilians in Afghanistan during that war. In a postmortem of the Afghan war by the Russian army general staff, which was later published, analysts counted more than 1,800 terrorist acts against non-military targets in Afghanistan between 1985 and 1987 alone. The commander of a mujaheddin squad that strapped bombs to pushcarts in Kabul and blew up Soviet and Afghan citizens told Jalali years later, "The only difference [between his bombs and those dropped from military aircraft] is the size of the bomb and the means of delivery."

In both Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and American-occupied Iraq, efforts at rebuilding and development became favorite targets of militants. The attacks hurt the Soviets, and are hurting the Americans. Many aid workers are refusing to stay in Iraq, or even to go there in the first place. Oxfam, for instance, is pulling out its people because, said its Iraq program manager, Simon Springett, "the risk level was becoming unacceptable for us." Even the International Committee for the Red Cross is cutting back.

Another unsettling similarity is the way in which Americans are increasingly being cast in the role of enemy in Iraq. Now that U.S. troops are under frequent attack, reports from Baghdad suggest that jittery soldiers are shooting back more quickly, and innocent Iraqis are sometimes paying the price -- not a situation likely to endear the American forces to Iraqis. "You know you're beginning to lose a guerrilla war when 'force protection' becomes the main concern of your military," said Milt Bearden, who helped organize the massive CIA effort to support the Afghans in their war against the Soviets. "And we're starting to hear that an awful lot now from top military in Baghdad."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

September 7, 2004:

Halliburton CEO: May Not Rebid for Iraq Contracts

Halliburton Co. may decide not to submit new bids for the logistics contracts it holds in Iraq if the U.S. military divides up the work too deeply, Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar said on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. Army plans to break up the multibillion-dollar logistics contract and seek competitive bids for the work it awarded to Halliburton to feed, house and operate services for U.S. troops.

"I'm not sure we're going to rebid if it's hacked into too many pieces in Iraq. If we do choose to rebid, we're going to jack the margins up significantly," said Lesar, whose comments to an analysts' conference in New York were broadcast on the Internet.

Halliburton's engineering and construction unit KBR, formerly called Kellogg Brown & Root, currently handles the contract, but has come under criticism from the Pentagon for possible overcharges.

Last month, Pentagon auditors urged the Army to withhold 15 percent of the more than $4 billion in logistical work done by Halliburton because of problems with the company's cost estimates.

The planned breakup of the contract into six or more separate contracts was laid out in an internal Army memo, which put the total value of the work at $13 billion, the Wall Street Journal said.

Halliburton, which was headed by Dick Cheney from 1995-2000 before he became U.S. vice president, has denied any wrongdoing in its billing.

Lesar said he viewed the possible rebidding as positive for Halliburton, which can earn a profit margin of about 2 percent on the logistics contract.

"At this point in time I don't see that we could lose whatever the outcome, because if we keep some of it, it would be higher margins. If we're out, we'll get our liquidity and we'll move on with our business," Lesar said.

Read the rest at Fox News

US death toll in Iraq reaches 1,000

The official US military death toll in Iraq reached 1,002 on Wednesday as US forces struggle to put down an insurgency that continues 16 months after President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat operations in the country.

Dozens of Iraqis and at least one US soldier were killed in fierce fighting in Baghdad's Sadr City neighbourhood on Tuesday, a week after Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire.

The US military said as many as 100 militants had been killed on Tuesday in Falluja, a town to the west of Baghdad that has been a centre of Sunni resistance to the presence of US forces in Iraq.

Two Italian women aid workers were abducted in central Baghdad on Wednesday, sparking a new hostage crisis. The latest abductions and the upsurge in violence is likely to fuel uncertainty over the fate of two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. The two men are still being held despite intense diplomatic efforts to free them.

Mohamed Bechari, a French Muslim leader who visited Iraq last week to help secure their release said on Monday a US offensive around Latifiya, where the hostages are believed to be being held, seemed designed to thwart the release.

US forces have suffered 135 fatalities in Afghanistan and the total wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan stands at more than 7,000 soldiers.

The US does not keep records of the number of Iraqis killed since the US invasion, but the Iraq Body Count Project estimates based on press reports that more than 11,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the invasion.

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, on Tuesday played down the significance of the 1,000 figure while saying the loss of any life was tragic. He rejected suggestions that the US had underestimated the strength of the Iraqi resistance and said he expected an increase in violence in Iraq as the country moved closer to holding elections.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that "the enemy is becoming more sophisticated" as the number of attacks on US forces remains stubbornly high.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

September 7, 2005:

Oil producer Iraq acts to save fuel

The country with the world’s third largest oil reserves shouldn’t run out of fuel.

But Iraq has come perilously close to doing just that. To save fuel, and to general confusion, the government has ordered half the capital’s car fleet off the roads on any given day.

Yesterday was the first day of the new rule, and only cars with licence plates ending in an odd number could take to the streets. And an odd day it proved for drivers.

At 9:00 a.m., normally the height of rush hour in this traffic-clogged capital, streets were almost empty. And the few officials who knew about the rule did not seem to understand it.

Police Colonel Tariq Ismail, directing a trickle of traffic in the city centre, apparently believed the rule was aimed at easing congestion rather than cutting the demand for fuel.

“The streets of Baghdad cannot cope with such a huge number of cars,” he said.

“Many barriers have been put up in front of government buildings, making driving slow,” he said, referring to the ubiquitous security measures in place across Baghdad. “A better solution would be to set up alternative roads and bridges.”

In fact, the ruling has little to do with congestion.

Instead, it owes to years of under-investment in Iraq’s creaking oil refining and distribution sectors, which have left the 2.5 million barrel per day producer unable to meet its domestic demand for gasoline and other essential oil products.

Shortages have become inevitable, creating queues and a thriving black market for gasoline, which, because of subsidies, officially costs just over one US cent per litre.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who runs the oil sector, acknowledged this yesterday, saying the government introduced the rule “to reduce the intensive demand for fuel”, describing the decision as “not perfect but positive”.

But ordinary motorists did not seem to understand it.

“It will help me reach work on time,” said commuter Um Hashim, who left her car at home. “I call on all Iraqis to obey this rule which has been introduced for the public good,” she said, apparently believing it was an anti-congestion measure.

Others were angry, like taxi driver Amir Al Hameeri, who did not take his car out yesterday, fearful of a fine equivalent to $20 if his even-numbered licence plate was spotted.

“It’s a ruthless decision against the poor,” he grumbled. "How can I feed my family now?”

Confused Baghdad motorists cannot expect much help from their mayor.

“I learned about it from TV yesterday,” Hussein Al Tahhan told Reuters. “Neither I nor the chief of traffic police knew anything about it.”

Read the rest at Khaleej Times

September 7, 2006:

Baghdad morgue tally triples August death toll

Though heralded by the US and Iraqi governments as signs of improving security, preliminary reports that violence in Baghdad had dramatically declined in the month of August appear to be incorrect.

The ABC News blog "From The Frontlines" reports that they received a phone call from an official at the Baghdad morgue who said the official toll of violent deaths in August nearly triple the figure originally reported by officials.

It turns out the official toll of violent deaths in August was just revised upwards to 1535 from 550, tripling the total ...this means that a much-publicized drop-off in violence in August – heralded by both the Iraqi government and the US military as a sign that a new security effort in Baghdad was working – apparently didn't exist.

Operation Together Forward, the main thrust of the new strategy, involves establishing pockets of security in select neighborhoods and then slowly adding more. These latest numbers add substance to fears Together Forward creates a whack-a-mole effect: that is, secure one area and the violence will pop up somewhere else. Violent deaths now appear roughly in line with the earlier trend: 1855 in July and 1595 in June. Officials at the Baghdad morgue have no good explanation for the dramatically revised number. We'll see what the US military has to say.

The Associated Press reports that while Iraq's Deputy Health Minister Hakem al-Zamly confirmed the higher figures this week, a US spokesman "referred The Associated Press to a statement on a U.S. military Web site which said the murder rate in Baghdad dropped 52 percent from the daily rate for July." AP also writes that the widely differing figures show that, after three years of war, officials still have no reliable way to count casualties.

Read the rest at the Christian Science Monitor

IED attacks keep rising, U.S. adjusting

Iraqi insurgents continue to increase their homemade-bomb attacks on U.S. and other coalition troops, despite a $3.5 billion Pentagon effort to stop them, a Pentagon official said Thursday.

Retired Army general Montgomery Meigs said Iraqi insurgents attacked troops of the U.S.-led coalition 1,200 times in August with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), compared with 1,100 attacks in July.

August's figure is four times as many IED attacks as were reported in January 2004.

"We know what (the enemy is) using," said Meigs, head of the Pentagon's anti-IED task force, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization. "It's not an easy thing to counter. It can be countered."

The top killers of U.S. troops in Iraq, IEDs have claimed the lives of more than 1,000 servicemembers and have wounded more than 10,000.

Among the challenges for the task force: Iraq is awash in the explosives — often artillery shells — used to make the homemade bombs, and the means of detonating them can come straight off the shelf.

"Ever been to Radio Shack? All the ways in Radio Shack you have of throwing a switch are potential ways of initiating or arming a bomb, or both," said Meigs, a former commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe and NATO's peacekeeping force in Bosnia.

About 45% of IEDs are found and disarmed before an attack can be carried out, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. Of troops wounded in IED attacks, about 75% return to duty, Meigs said.

Insurgents have had to more than triple their attacks to achieve the same numbers of casualties, Meigs said.

"We are making slow, grudging progress," he said. "We will do better over time."

Read the rest at USA Today

Soldier Dies of Injuries From War

Just when his family thought he would pull through, a Virginia Beach soldier wounded four months ago in Iraq died of his injuries, Army officials said yesterday.

"We had high hopes he would be home in time for Christmas," Ralph B. Squires said of his older son, Army Cpl. Shannon L. Squires. Burial was Tuesday in Virginia Beach with full military honors.

Squires, 25, died Aug. 28 in San Antonio, where he was being treated at the Brooke Army Medical Center for wounds he suffered after a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle in late April. More than half of his body was burned, his father said. It was Squires's second tour in Iraq, and he worked as a field artillery tactical data systems specialist.

A 1999 graduate of Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Squires joined the Army in 2002 because he wanted to "make a difference," his father said. He also hoped to make use of his knowledge of computers and machinery.

"He was a good boy, but I know all parents say that about their kids," his father said, his voice soft. "But it's true. Mine was a hero, plain and simple."

Before enlisting, Squires worked in technical support for Gateway Computers. He loved taking apart -- and putting back together -- computers, his father said, and he enjoyed being online. He was infinitely curious and was always eager to work on his family's cars. Once, he learned to change the timing belt by following directions from the Internet.

"The first time, it wasn't quite right," said Ralph Squires, 57. "So he took it apart and did it again. That's the way he was. He was patient and good with his hands."

Shannon Squires was the older of two sons, his father said. He said Shannon's mother, a registered nurse, had been in San Antonio to help care for him.

Online, the soldier had many friends, several of whom have left notes of sympathy on his account since his death. The photograph on Squires's page shows him dressed in fatigues, a weapon in his hands and a cigarette hanging loosely from his lips. He wrote that he had less than one year left on his Army contract and that he was a Scorpio who loved long walks on the beach.

"And," he wrote, "my life is not any way near being complete."

Read the rest at the Washington Post

U.S. Forces in Iraq Number 145,000

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq rose to 145,000 this week, the highest since December and 15,000 more than a month ago.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Vician said Thursday the increase is temporary, and that it owes to a routine rotation of forces _ that is, a bump in numbers. Such a shift lasts for a matter of weeks, he said, as replacement troops arrive and overlap with troops ending their tours and preparing to leave.

The number stood at about 130,000 in the final days of July, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld temporarily extended the tours of some 3,500 Americans in effort to stem escalating sectarian violence in the capital city of Baghdad.

Vician said there are no indications that officials are planning more extensions.

Read the rest at Fox News