Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Analysis: U.S. and Iran on the precipice

The Iraq War began with the bombing of Baghdad in March, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Citing Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has shifted to offense in its confrontation with Iran, building up the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf and promising more aggressive moves against Iranian operatives in Iraq and Lebanon.

The behind-the-scenes struggle between the two nations could explode into open warfare over a single misstep, analysts and U.S. military officials warn.

Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, which is challenging -- at least rhetorically -- America's dominance of the Gulf. That has worried even Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister, who, in a reflection of Iraq's complexity, also has close ties to Iran.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Analysis: Has U.S. prodded a rebirth of the Persian Empire?


Recent media news revealed that Iran attempted in 2003 to appease the US administration. It offered to make two concessions: an Arabic concession; to halt support for Hammas and Hezbollah, both staunch enemies of Israel, and leading advocates in the fight to liberate occupied Arabic territories from Israeli occupation. And an Iraqi concession; to use its influence to support stabilisation in Iraq post invasion, and a full transparency on its nuclear enrichment programme. In return, the US should hold hostilities towards Iran.

These concessions are significant, not within the context of halting alleged US hostilities, but within the overall context of Iran regional ambition. They clearly demonstrate that the nuclear enrichment programme and the support for Arab and Palestinian causes are not issues of principle to Iran, but bargaining chips to be used when necessary to achieve Iran historic ambition in the region. That is, the re-birth of the Persian Empire.

Read the rest at Middle East Online

Analysis: With Iran Ascendant, U.S. Is Seen at Fault

Iranian army on parade in Tehran last year

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Kuwait rarely rebuffs its ally, the United States, partly out of gratitude for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in October it reneged on a pledge to send three military observers to an American-led naval exercise in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials and Kuwaiti analysts.

"We understood," a State Department official said. "The Kuwaitis were being careful not to antagonize the Iranians."

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Perspective: Lack of equipment for surge troops may increase casualties


Boosting U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 would create major logistical hurdles for the Army and Marine Corps, which are short thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces, U.S. officials said.

The increase would also further degrade the readiness of U.S.-based ground forces, hampering their ability to respond quickly, fully trained and well equipped in the case of other military contingencies around the world and increasing the risk of U.S. casualties, according to Army and Marine Corps leaders.

"The response would be slower than we might like, we would not have all of the equipment sets that ordinarily would be the case, and there is certainly risk associated with that," the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, told the House Armed Services Committee last week.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Security Summary: January 31, 2007

A policeman secures the site of a carbomb attack in Baghdad today

BAGHDAD - Three university professors and a student kidnapped in Baghdad on Sunday have been killed, Adnan al-Janabi, the head of al-Nahrain university, told Reuters. He said police had informed the university that their bodies were in the Baghdad morgue.

NAJAF - The governor of Najaf province, Asaad Abu Gilel, said 12 Iraqi soldiers and policemen were killed in Sunday's battle with a group that the Iraqi authorities said styled itself the "Soldiers of Heaven". The governor said 650 followers were captured and 300 or more killed.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army killed 210 insurgents and arrested 342 in the past two days in various parts of Iraq, the Defence Ministry said.

BAGHDAD - Ten mortar rounds landed in different parts of Adhamiya district in northern Baghdad, killing four people and wounding 20, police said.

TAL AFAR - A car bomb aimed at an Iraqi army patrol wounded 10 civilians in the northern town of Tal Afar, 420 km (260 miles) north of Baghdad, hospital and Iraqi army source said.

NEAR KIRKUK - Sadeddin Ergech, the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the largest political party in Kirkuk, escaped unharmed from a roadside bomb attack on Tuesday near the oil rich city, police said.

KIRKUK - A roadside bomb killed one person and wounded two people in Kirkuk, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed two people and wounded eight in Bab al-Muadham area in central Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb wounded two people in al-Maamoun district in central Baghdad, police said.

BAIJI - A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded six policemen in the refinery city of Baiji, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BAIJI - Police found the bodies of two people with bullet wounds to the head in Baiji, police said.

BAIJI - Gunmen killed a policeman late on Tuesday in Baiji, police said.

MAHMUDIYA - A U.S. helicopter killed two insurgents on Wednesday in an attack on four men trying to plant a roadside bomb in Mahmudiya, 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Residents said the air strike targeted Shi'ite followers of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marking the Ashura ritual.

FALLUJA - The bodies of six people shot in the head and chest were found in the Sunni stronghold of Falluja, 50 km (35 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.

FALLUJA - Gunmen killed a teenager in the city of Falluja, police said.

ANBAR PROVINCE - Two U.S. soldiers and a Marine died on Tuesday from wounds suffered in combat in the restive western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said on Wednesday.

MIQDADIYA - A suicide bomber in a fuel truck rammed the main gate of an Iraqi army base in Miqdadiya, 90 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, wounding nine soldiers, an Iraqi army source said.

BAGHDAD - A car bomb killed one person and wounded six people in New Baghdad district, police said.

BAGHDAD - Police found the bodies of eight people in various parts of Baghdad in the 24 hours to Tuesday evening, a police source said.

MOSUL - The body of a man who had been decapitated was found in Mosul, north of Baghdad, police said.

From Reuters/Alternet

Report: 1,200 now 'detained for questioning' about Najaf cult battle

Captured 'militants' after the battle. Iraqi military officials claim 300 were killed, but reports about the origins and conduct of the battle have been conflicting.

NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi police on Wednesday detained hundreds of people suspected of being linked to the Soldiers of Heaven religious cult as burials began for the 350 cult members who were killed by U.S. and Iraqi troops in a bizarre shootout on Sunday.

But the cult remained shrouded in mystery, and authorities struggled to explain its connections and the origin of $10 million found on the cult's farms outside Najaf, a Shiite holy city.

Some 600 townspeople were detained Wednesday, in addition to the 590 held since Tuesday, but it was unclear what charges, if any, would be filed against them.

The dead from Sunday's shootout included an unidentified British citizen who was a barber for cult leader Thiya Abdul Zahra Kathum al-Qarawi, according to a spokesman for the governor of Najaf. Little is known about al-Qarawi, who claimed to be the earthly representative of the "Hidden Imam," the last of 12 Shiite saints who disappeared in the ninth century, according to Shiite theology. Police said Wednesday that he came from Diwaniyah, a city that is halfway between Baghdad and Basra.

Read the rest at the San Jose Mercury News

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250 'militants' reported killed in battles near Najaf

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Fallon testimony: Doesn't 'know the details' of and won't endorse Iraq plan, says Petraeus will 'figure it out' later

Adm. William Fallon before his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing to become commander of the U. S. Central Command

The admiral picked by President Bush to oversee his new strategy for Iraq testified yesterday that he does not know much about the plan that the administration says will determine whether the U.S. wins the war.

"I have not gotten into the detail of these plans," Adm. William J. Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that he has been concentrating on his current job as head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Adm. Fallon specifically declined to endorse Mr. Bush's plan, saying he first has to get to the region and assess matters.

The admiral's lack of knowledge startled some senators.

"I'm surprised that you don't have that understanding going in, frankly," said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and panel chairman. He had asked whether the flow of new troops could be slowed based on battlefield conditions.

The admiral, whose expertise centers on sea power and diplomacy in dealing with China, said he will leave the Iraq battle decisions to Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who leaves for Baghdad this week as the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The admiral appeared before the panel for confirmation hearings on his appointment to lead the U.S. Central Command.

"I do not know the details of how he plans to use" the new troops, Adm. Fallon said. "I'm sure he's going to have to consult with his generals on the ground once he gets into position and then figure it out."

Read the rest at the Washington Times

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Maliki: 'I assure you' Iran behind some attacks on U.S. forces, but tells both to ' solve your problems outside Iraq'

Iraq's air force, which is said to suffer from lack of spare parts, includes the vaunted MIG-29.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister said Wednesday he's sure Iran is behind some attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and he won't allow his country to be a battleground for the two nations.

"We have told the Iranians and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other, but we are asking you, please solve your problems outside Iraq,' " Nuri al-Maliki told CNN.

"We will not accept Iran to use Iraq to attack the American forces," al-Maliki said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with CNN. (Read more of al-Maliki interview)

"We don't want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria," he added.

Asked about the role of Iran in Iraq, al-Maliki said he was confident that Iranian influence was behind attacks on U.S. forces. "It exists, and I assure you it exists," he said.

Iranian-U.S. tensions have been ratcheted up recently, with two U.S. officials theorizing about the possibility that Iran was involved in a January 20 attack that killed five U.S. soldiers.

Read the rest at CNN

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Reports: Najaf battle may have been massacre of pilgrims caused by confusion

This image released yesterday by the Najaf governor's office is said to show the body of Diya Abdul-Zahra Kadhim, 37, labelled as the leader of a little know cult called 'Soldiers of Heaven' by Iraqi officials


There are growing suspicions in Iraq that the official story of the battle outside Najaf between a messianic Iraqi cult and the Iraqi security forces supported by the US, in which 263 people were killed and 210 wounded, is a fabrication. The heavy casualties may be evidence of an unpremeditated massacre.

A picture is beginning to emerge of a clash between an Iraqi Shia tribe on a pilgrimage to Najaf and an Iraqi army checkpoint that led the US to intervene with devastating effect. The involvement of Ahmed al-Hassani (also known as Abu Kamar), who believed himself to be the coming Mahdi, or Messiah, appears to have been accidental.

The story emerging on independent Iraqi websites and in Arabic newspapers is entirely different from the government's account of the battle with the so-called "Soldiers of Heaven", planning a raid on Najaf to kill Shia religious leaders.

The cult denied it was involved in the fighting, saying it was a peaceful movement. The incident reportedly began when a procession of 200 pilgrims was on its way, on foot, to celebrate Ashura in Najaf. They came from the Hawatim tribe, which lives between Najaf and Diwaniyah to the south, and arrived in the Zarga area, one mile from Najaf at about 6am on Sunday. Heading the procession was the chief of the tribe, Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, and his wife driving in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. When they reached an Iraqi army checkpoint it opened fire, killing Mr Hatemi, his wife and his driver, Jabar Ridha al-Hatemi. The tribe, fully armed because they were travelling at night, then assaulted the checkpoint to avenge their fallen chief.

Read the rest at the Independent

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Analysis: Najaf Battle Raises Questions

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Report: 2 killed as U.S. helicopter downed in flames by rocket in Najaf

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U.S.-Iraqi Sources: Iran suspected in abduction, execution of soldiers at Karbala; hint Sadr forces also involved


BAGHDAD, Jan. 30 — Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

A senior Iraqi official said the attackers had carried forged American identity cards and American-style M-4 rifles and had thrown stun grenades of a kind used only by American forces here.

Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran....

An Iraqi knowledgeable about the investigation said four suspects had been detained and questioned. Based on those interviews, investigators have concluded that as they fled Karbala with the abducted Americans, the attackers used advanced devices to monitor police communications and avoid the roads where the police were searching.

The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

Read the rest at the NY Times

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'Senior Pentagon Officials': Air force preparing for aggressive tactics against Iranians in Iraq

F-16 Fighting Falcons wait on the "hot ramp" while maintenance crews ready the weapons for a night mission in Iraq

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants, senior Pentagon officials said.

The efforts could include more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran, a senior Pentagon official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing future military plans.

Such missions also could position the Air Force to strike suspected bomb suppliers inside Iraq to deter Iranian agents that U.S. officials say are assisting Iraqi militias, outside military experts said.

The heightened role of U.S. air power in the volatile region is the latest sign of tension between President Bush and Iran's leaders.

Bush warned two weeks ago that U.S. forces would take a harder line against Iranians in Iraq, vowing to "seek out and destroy" weapons supply networks that endanger U.S. troops.

He expanded the warning Monday, saying in a National Public Radio interview that Iranian threats to the Iraqi people would be considered unacceptable.

The tough stance has been backed by military moves. Bush this month ordered a second aircraft carrier group, led by the John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf, a measure described as a warning to Iran.

Read the rest at the LA Times

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U.S. strike group transits Suez on way to buildup in Persian Gulf

USS Bataan is part of a new class of ships designed to accomplish amphibious landings.

ISMAILIYA, Egypt: A U.S. Navy strike group led by the assault ship USS Bataan steamed through the Suez Canal on Tuesday on its way to join the buildup of American forces in the Middle East.

The Bataan, which entered Egyptian waters Monday, spent the night at the Mediterranean harbor of Port Said and was expected to leave the Egyptian part of the Red Sea later Tuesday, a Suez Canal official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The seven-vessel Bataan group includes 2,200 U.S. Marines and sailors, helicopters and Harrier fighter jets, the Navy said in Bahrain.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, will be overseeing around 50 warships in the Mideast after the arrival of the Bataan and an American aircraft carrier group in February, said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown.

The Fifth Fleet normally commands a fleet of about 45 ships, about a third of them from U.S.-allied navies, Brown said.

The Navy is in the midst of a regional buildup, with the group of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis on its way as well as 21,500 U.S. soldiers being sent to Iraq. The carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is already in the region.

The United States has not had two carriers in the Mideast since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Bataan will join a second amphibious assault ship, the USS Boxer, which was on port visit in Dubai on Tuesday.

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Analysis: Najaf Battle Raises Questions

An Iraqi soldier displays a poster of the leader of an Iraqi cult who claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, near the bodies of 'militants'

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Accounts of the bloody battle near Najaf have produced more questions than answers, raising doubts about Iraqi security forces' performance and concern over tensions within the majority Shiite community.

Among the questions: How did a messianic Shiite cult, the "Soldiers of Heaven," accumulate so many weapons and _ if Iraqi accounts are accurate _ display such military skills? Iraqi forces prevailed only after U.S. and British jets blasted the militants with rockets, machine gunfire and 500-pound bombs. Both U.S. and Iraqi reinforcements had to be sent to the fight.

It's also unclear how a shadowy cult that few Iraqis had ever heard of managed to assemble such a force seemingly without attracting the attention of the authorities earlier. Iraqi officials say the cult planned to slaughter pilgrims and leading clerics at Shiite religious ceremonies Tuesday _ only two days after police and soldiers moved to arrest them.

If the "Soldiers of Heaven" were able to accomplish all this, how many other fringe groups may be operating beneath the radar, especially in the politically factious Shiite community of southern Iraq?

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Perspective: Some Shia children take part in bloody rite


NABATIYEH, Lebanon -- The 6-year-old boy screamed and shook his head to avoid the razor blade. But his father held him firmly as Hajj Khodor parted the boy's black hair and sliced his forehead three times with the blade.

Ali Madani's cries became more violent as blood gushed from the wound, covering his small, terrified face. His father and a few other men, waving daggers, broke into a religious chant, recalling how the 7th-century Shiite Muslim saint, Imam Hussein, was decapitated, his head placed on a lance.

In marking the holiest day of Ashoura, some Shiites believe children should learn at an early age about Hussein's suffering, which is at the heart of their faith.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

Perspective: Ashura holiday defines Shiites' past, future

The most important day in the Shia calendar is Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. On this day observant Shia men cut themselves or self-flagellate in remembrance.

BAGHDAD — As Shiite Arabs observe their most significant and distinctive holiday, they stand at a critical juncture, one marked by potential peril and once-unimaginable opportunity for their sect, its members long considered second-class citizens in the Sunni Arab-dominated Middle East.

Ashura, the hectic 10-day ceremony that culminates today and marks the 7th century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad, has leaped in importance in the Arab world since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni regime.

From the LA Times

Perspective: 'I'm 11 years old... Since last September, three of my classmates have been kidnapped and two have been killed'

A man removes a bloodied schoolbook at a school gate following a mortar attack Sunday which killed 5 schoolgirls in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, 29 January (IRIN) - "I'm 11 years old and an only son. I'm a pupil at Mansour Primary School in Baghdad. Lately, I have been feeling very lonely in my class. This week, I was the only student in class because all my classmates didn't come to school for various reasons.

"Since last September, three of my classmates have been kidnapped and two have been killed. One was murdered with his family at home and the other was a victim of a bomb explosion a month ago.

"The others have either fled to Jordan and Syria with their families or their relatives have prohibited them from coming to school for fear that something might happen to them.

"I live very close to my school. I can walk there in two minutes. My mother takes me there and picks me up every day. She prays all the way to school and all the way back and tells me not to be scared. She says that at least I'm studying and one day I can be an important man and leave Iraq forever.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Security Summary: January 30, 2007

A policeman surveys the damage from a car-bombing in Kirkuk today

BAGHDAD - Mortar rounds rained down in several barrages on Adhamiya in northern Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 72, a police source said. A doctor at Nuamaan hospital put the death toll at 20.

BALAD RUZ - A suicide bomber killed at least 23 worshippers and wounded 57 others when he blew himself up at a Shi'ite mosque in the town of Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad, Dr. Yassir Ahmed of Balad Ruz hospital said.

KHANAQIN - At least 13 people, including three women, were killed and 39 wounded, when a roadside bomb exploded by a procession of Shi'ites marking the climax of the Ashura ceremony in the ethnically mixed town of Khanaqin northeast of Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - At least four Shi'ite pilgrims were killed and nine wounded when gunmen opened fire on two minibuses near the southern Baghdad district of Bayaa, police sources said.

MOSUL - A car bomb targeted a police patrol, killing two policemen and wounding two others in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, police said.

BAGHDAD - Police said a mortar round wounded nine pilgrims when it landed in Kadhimiya, a Shi'ite district of northern Baghdad home to a revered shrine, where thousands had gathered to commemorate Ashura.

ANBAR PROVINCE - A U.S. Marine died on Monday from wounds sustained in fighting in Anbar Province, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - A total of 21 bodies were found in different areas of Baghdad on Monday, police said.

BAGHDAD - The death toll from a mortar barrage on Monday in the southern Baghdad district of Zaafaraniya rose to 16 people dead and 28 wounded, a police source said.

NEAR MAHAWEEL - Gunmen killed a teacher on Monday on a main road near the town of Mahaweel, 75 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

RAMADI - A suicide truck bomber killed 16 people at the compound of a police rapid reaction force northwest of Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, on Sunday, the U.S. military said.

From Reuters/Alternet

Iraqi messianic cult denies involvement in Sunday's battle near Najaf

Bodies of 'militants' killed in Sunday's battle

Followers of Imam Ahmed al-Hassan al-Yamani, who styles himself the messenger or envoy of the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, said theirs was a peaceful movement not linked to the "Soldiers of Heaven" who fought the day-long battle near the holy city of Najaf on Sunday.

Conflicting accounts from Iraqi political and security sources have thickened the fog of war, making it difficult to determine exactly whom the Iraqi and US soldiers fought.

The site of the fighting, in which some women and children were also killed, has been sealed off and wounded survivors are in hospital under guard, with reporters being kept away.

The US military has referred to them only as gunmen, but some Iraqi officials have said they were members of the "Soldiers of Heaven", a group they said had planned to massacre the top Shi'ite religious leadership at the climax of Ashura, the weeklong Shi'ite mourning ritual that ended on Tuesday.

The Iraqi Defence Ministry said on Tuesday 263 people were killed on Sunday, in an assault on a camp in orchards near Najaf. It said more than 500 were detained, of whom nearly half were wounded.

Iraqi security officials said on Monday that a man calling himself Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib and styling himself the Mahdi, had been killed in the fighting but that the whereabouts of his "messenger" Ahmed al-Hassan was not known.

Film of the battlefield obtained by Reuters showed dozens of bodies lying in what looked like a dry irrigation canal. Dozens of bullet casings and an AK-47 magazine lay next to one body.

The footage also appeared to show the body of Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib, wrapped in a blanket. His face, with a neatly trimmed beard, matched a photo in a pamphlet found at the site entitled "Holy Coming", which identified him as the Mahdi.

Followers of Hassan in the southern city of Basra accused Iraqi authorities of falsely implicating them in the fighting and said their leader had no involvement. Iraqi security forces shut down their office in Najaf last week.

"We have no role with what happened in Najaf. That is propaganda to damage our movement, which is peaceful," said spokesman Abdul Imam Jaabar at the group's mosque in central Basra, adding that he could not say where Hassan was.

Jaabar said Hassan was a civil engineer who formed the group in Najaf in 1999 after proclaiming he had met the Mahdi, who had declared him his grandson. He quickly won a following, which Jaabar said now numbered 5,000 in southern Iraq.

Read the rest at Stuff NZ

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Experts: Congress has constitutional power to stop Iraq war


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq, a former Bush administration attorney and other high-powered legal experts told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

With many lawmakers poised to confront President George W. Bush by voting disapproval of his war policy in the coming days, four of five experts called before the Senate Judiciary Committee said Congress could go further and restrict or stop U.S. involvement if it chose.

"I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.

"It is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force," said Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general -- the government's chief advocate before the Supreme Court -- in 1996-97, and an assistant attorney general three years before that.

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Sources: Iraqi forces nearly overwhelmed before U.S. intervened in Sunday's battle near Najaf

Captured 'militants' after the battle. Iraqi military officials claim 300 were killed, but reports about the origins and conduct of the battle have been conflicting.

BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 —Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.

They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters.

Iraqi government officials said the group apparently was preparing to storm Najaf, a holy city dear to Shiite Islam, occupy the sacred Imam Ali mosque and assassinate the religious hierarchy there, including the revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a Shiite holiday when many pilgrims visit.

“This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference.

Only a month ago, in an elaborate handover ceremony, the American command transferred security authority over Najaf to the Iraqis. The Americans said at the time that they would remain available to assist the Iraqis in the event of a crisis.

Read the rest at the NY Times

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Saudi Foreign Minister: Saudi Arabia, Iran cooperating on Iraq

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia and Iran are working together to try to calm the crises in Iraq and Lebanon, the Saudi foreign minister said Tuesday, despite Washington's efforts to isolate Tehran and limit its influence in the Middle East. The mediation is an unusual step by two rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, that compete for regional influence.

President Bush has rejected calls that the United States win Iran's help in easing Iraq's bloodshed and resolve the political crisis in Lebanon that erupted into violence last week. Instead, he has vowed to break what he called Iranian support for militants in both countries.

Saudi Arabia's willingness to work with Iran likely indicates the growing alarm in the kingdom's leadership over the two simultaneous crises, which have inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has given tepid support to a new U.S. strategy in Iraq but has expressed skepticism over whether it will succeed. Besides sending 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, the new strategy takes a tougher stance on Iran.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Alexander H. Fuller dies of injuries from I.E.D.

BARNSTABLE -- Anastacia Fuller was 13 years old when she met her future husband.

Alex Fuller , then barely 15, approached her at a club in Hyannis and asked her to dance.

They fell in love almost immediately. Four years later, they were married in South Yarmouth.

Anastacia Fuller, now 19 and expecting their first child in April, spoke to her husband last Tuesday when he called from his post in Iraq to tell her he had received the pictures she sent of her expanding belly.

"He told me how beautiful I looked," Fuller recalled yesterday at her parents' house in Centerville, a village of Barnstable.

It was their last conversation. Late Thursday night, two Army soldiers came to her house to tell her that Alex Fuller, a sergeant in the 61st Cavalry Regiment, was killed near Baghdad earlier that day by a roadside bomb.

Anastacia Fuller said she is proud of her husband's decision to serve, but said she was troubled by the way he died.

"He didn't die for anything that changed anything," she said, as she sat at the kitchen counter . "He's just another life, just another casualty. I'd like to have more closure knowing that he died to save somebody's life."

But she said she knows exactly what she will say to her daughter when she asks about her father: "I'm going to tell her he was a hero."

Alex Fuller joined the Army in October 2004 , just before he was married. He was deployed last October to Iraq, shortly after his wife became pregnant.

A skilled boxer who briefly played high school football, Fuller loved physical challenges, his friends and family said yesterday.

"He was just the toughest, most fearless kid," said Zach Hallett , 24, of Osterville, Fuller's best friend. "He wasn't afraid of anything."

In the Army, Fuller believed he had a future. A high school dropout who eventually got his General Educational Development certificate, Fuller saw military service as a way to get ahead.

He imagined spending decades in the Army, rising through the ranks, or parlaying his time in the military into a career in criminal justice.

"He wanted to make a difference," said his mother-in-law, Irena Zinov , 42, as she cooked her daughter a plate of cheese-stuffed pancakes. "Serving his country made him feel very good."

Alex Fuller embraced the opportunity to fight overseas, Anastacia Fuller said.

"He wanted to stop the attackers," she said. "He wanted to stop the terrorists. He wanted to kill the enemy."

But recently, Fuller began to crave his home. He was supposed to return in April for his daughter's birth.

"When Stacy got pregnant and he saw the pictures," Zinov said, "that's when he started thinking it might be nice to get back."

Alex Fuller lived with Hallett for two years before moving in with Anastacia Fuller's family when he was 16 years old.

"This was his family," his wife said, looking at her parents.

"He was like a son to me," said her father, Dmitri Zinov , 42.

To Hallett, Fuller was like a sibling. "I lost my brother in Iraq," Hallet said. "He was just really loved by all of us."

Anastacia Fuller, who plans to go to college and become a nurse, said she will live with her parents for a while, but expects to buy her own home with the money she and her husband saved.

She is naming her daughter Alicia, the name her husband chose because it resembles his own.

"I didn't really like it at first, but he wanted it so bad," she said.

"After all this, I felt like I had to do it for him."

From the Globe

Nathan P. Fairlie dies of injuries from I.E.D.

A 21-year-old soldier from Candor was killed Friday in Iraq when the vehicle he was driving rolled over an Improvised Explosive Device.

The Defense Department said Pfc. Nathan P. Fairlie, of Candor, died of injuries suffered in Baqubah when the IED detonated near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle during combat operations.

Fairlie was assigned to the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas.

Other soldiers were in the vehicle at the time, but the Candor resident was the only one killed, his father, Paul Fairlie, said he was told Friday afternoon by Army officials.

The elder Fairlie did not know the extent of the injuries to the other soldiers.

Nathan Fairlie called his family Monday to tell them his unit would be moving to a different area of Iraq and he wouldn't have access to a phone for a while.

Paul Fairlie said that was the last time he spoke to his son.

Paul Fairlie said his son told the family Monday "if anything happened, he just wanted us to be proud of him."

"We're very proud of him," Paul Fairlie said during a telephone interview Saturday.

"We're very sorry to lose our son, but we're also very proud that he enlisted in the service and he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

"But we're still gonna miss him. We're gonna miss him for the rest of our lives."

The 21-year-old is survived by his parents, Paul and Karen Fairlie of Catatonk Hill Road in Candor; and an older sister, Mindi Rogers.

Nathan Fairlie joined the Army less than a year after graduating from Candor High School in 2004.

He was serving his first tour of duty in Iraq after being deployed in early October, his father said.

Fairlie had hoped to return home on leave at the end of February, his father said.

"This is what he wanted to do, that's all I can say. He knew there was a risk involved; he was willing to take the risk," Paul Fairlie said.

"He was very proud tobe in the military."

While he was a student at Candor, Fairlie was a lineman on the football team. He was also an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and hunting, his father said.

"He was looking forward to coming home to do a little hunting before he got back (to Iraq)," Paul Fairlie said.

"He had a few hunting trips planned. Unfortunately, they're not going to happen."

The family has not yet made plans for a funeral service, Paul Fairlie said.

They will wait to find out when the soldier's body will return home and probably plan a service for the following week, his father said.

From the Journal

Alan R. Johnson dies of injuries from I.E.D.

BISMARCK, N.D. -- A North Dakota native has been killed by roadside bomb in Iraq, his mother said.

Alan Johnson, 44, a major in the Washington National Guard, was killed Friday, said Mary Hanson, his mother, who lives in Sanborn, west of Valley City. The Department of Defense said Johnson died in Balad of wounds suffered when his vehicle struck an explosive in Muqdadiyah.

"It's still a bad dream, and it's getting worse," Hanson said Monday. "He was a good son."

Four others were injured, some seriously, she said.

Johnson was assigned to the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Tonawanda, N.Y. He grew up in Montpelier and graduated from high school there in 1981. He joined the Guard in North Dakota while in high school, his mother said.

"He was in 26 years," Hanson said. "He lived for the service."

Hanson said her son lived in Yakima, Wash., with his wife, Victoria, and a stepdaughter. She last spoke to him on Christmas. "We didn't have time to talk about an awful lot," she said.

It was his first tour of duty in Iraq, Hanson said.

"He ordinarily would have been coming home in April," his mother said.

Sonny Johnson, of Montpelier, said his son "was a good kid, good in school and got good grades. And he loved the Guard."

Alan was raised to be a farmer, his father said. "He grew up raising crops and horses and running tractors and then he went to college," Sonny Johnson said.

Johnson said his son worked as corrections officer at a prison in Yakima. The two last spoke on Alan Johnson's birthday on Dec. 30.

"We talked about what he was doing, and he said they were doing a good job out there," Sonny Johnson said.

Johnson will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. A memorial service is being planned in Jamestown, his mother said.

From Newsday

Jamie D. Wilson slain by sniper

Army officials Thursday released the identity of the latest Fort Richardson soldier killed in Iraq. Officials say Staff Sergeant Jamie D. Wilson was killed Monday by enemy small-arms fire while on guard duty at his base near Fallujah. The 34-year-old San Diego resident was an infantryman who joined the Army in June 1990.

Wilson was assigned to Fort Richardson in September 2005. Officials say no other paratroopers were injured in the incident. Next of kin have been notified.

From KTVA

Jacob Neal laid to rest

As American flags waved and funeral goers filled the Crockett Civic Center, Marine Corporal Jacob Neal's family and friends reflected on happier times.

"He was just really level-headed and he was the good one out of the bunch. And I hated that he was the one that had to go. He was so young but I love him. And I'm proud of him. I'm just proud of him," said Nicole Evans, Jacob's sister.

"Jacob was a guy that always wanted to be on time. He wanted to try his best and try to succeed for himself. He didn't ask for any help. He was always for himself. Always tried to help others and always tried to do the best for everybody else just like for himself," said Jacob's childhood friend Juan Nayola.

The 23-year-old marine was killed a week ago while fighting in Iraq. Family members say knowing he died serving his country makes things just a little easier to cope with.

"He died for a good cause, yes he did. He fought for us. That's what he went over there for: our freedom. He fought for us and I'm real proud of him. I'm happy for him," Perry Neal, Jacob's father said.

Neal's family says they've been getting plenty of support from the community. And while Neal may be gone, those who knew him say his memory and sacrifice will continue to live on in their hearts.

"I'll miss Jacob. I won't get to see him again but hopefully one day we see each other up there in heaven. I miss you, Jacob. You were like a brother to me and I really miss you a lot," Noyola said.

From KRTE 9

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Sean Lyerly laid to rest

Before he died aboard a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, Army Capt. Sean Lyerly of Pflugerville was trying to grow grass.

He loved plants and had studied horticulture at Texas A&M. But the patch of grass he wanted to grow outside his quarters refused. Lyerly tried protecting the grass with a screen; when Iraq's winds blew it down, he anchored the screen with rocks. He would not give up on that grass, said Lorie Hanna, quoting a message from her husband, Christopher Hanna, Lyerly's roommate in Iraq.

Speaking Monday at Lyerly's funeral in Pflugerville, Lorie Hanna said her husband found something unexpected shortly after Lyerly's death:

"I found little strips of grass," Christopher Hanna wrote, in keeping with the day's theme that Lyerly left a legacy that would continue growing, "and I was thrilled."

Lyerly, 31, a Texas Army National Guardsman stationed at Camp Mabry, was deployed to Iraq in August. He was aboard the Black Hawk helicopter that crashed in Baghdad on Jan. 20, killing all 12 soldiers aboard, nine of them National Guardsmen from various states. It was among the largest number of National Guard members killed in a single mission since the Korean War.

On Monday, after a funeral at Pflugerville's St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Lyerly was laid to rest at Cook-Walden/Capital Parks Cemetery. The two ceremonies drew Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, as well as more than 500 onlookers, many of them uniformed service members.

Lyerly left behind his wife, 24-year-old Csilla, 3-year-old son Zackary, brother George Lyerly Jr., and parents George Lyerly and Deborah Russo-Blakeman. The family did not speak at the service and declined to be interviewed Monday.

Bishop Gregory Aymond, head of the Diocese of Austin, said in a eulogy that Lyerly flew relief missions in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"He loved flying," Aymond said, "but he loved flying best when he could help someone else."

McCaul and Aymond said Zackary's life will be proof that Lyerly's legacy will continue growing. At the service, Lorie Hanna said her husband had noticed that the grass Lyerly planted has continued growing.

" 'Please,' " Lorie Hanna said, quoting from her husband's message, " 'tell Sean thanks for the grass. It meant the world to me.' "

From the Statesman

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Sean Patrick Fennerty laid to rest

Sgt. Sean Patrick Fennerty, son of a physician and a teacher, was blessed with talent, smarts, friends and every advantage this world can offer. But he traded all of the world's pleasures for service to his country and a walk directly into harm's way in Iraq.

Fennerty was seeking a challenge when he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. He was steered to Officer Candidate School, but he chose to be an enlisted man, fighting alongside his buddies, watching their backs.

He was remembered as fiercely loyal: To his fellow Airborne soldiers and to his country. To his beloved sports teams: Oregon State Beavers, San Diego Padres and Chargers, and Arizona Wildcats. To his Irish heritage and strong Catholic faith. To his schools and classmates: Jesuit High School, Class of 1999; Oregon State University, Class of 2004; fraternity, Sigma Pi; and childhood friends from St. Thomas More Catholic School in Portland.

Hundreds of his friends gathered to honor and mourn Fennerty at his funeral Mass on Saturday at the Knight Center of Jesuit High School in Beaverton. He was 25.

For those who attended, from across the United States and from as far away as India and South America, the Iraq war had become very real.

Fennerty was killed Jan. 20 in Anbar province while riding in a military vehicle that was struck by a roadside bomb. He had trained at Fort Benning, Ga., and was stationed at Fort Richardson, Alaska, with the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne). He was the 77th military member with strong ties to Oregon or Southwest Washington to be killed in Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Gregg Martin, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Northwestern Division, represented the Army chief of staff in awarding a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star to Fennerty posthumously Saturday.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who tries to attend all the funerals of soldiers from the state, spoke of a young man "in whose hands I would confidently place the future of Oregon." He was "the son every parent wants, the student every teacher wants, the soldier every commanding officer wants."

The governor likened Fennerty to St. Patrick, who faced fear with confidence, and recited the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits.

Fennerty was born July 2, 1981, at a Navy hospital in San Diego, while his father was on active duty in the Navy. He was the second of four children. His family lived in Tucson, Ariz., during his childhood and moved to Portland when he was 12.

His younger brother, Conor Fennerty, told of a brother who lived "la dolce vita," loving food and drink -- especially Pabst Blue Ribbon beer -- in the company of friends and making impulse purchases at the grocery store. And he told of a proud Catholic who loved the Army's pomp and ceremony.

"He was not a saint, but what we should all aspire to be," Conor Fennerty concluded.

His younger sister, Colleen Fennerty, told of a brother who loved "chick flicks," who took 30 minutes to wake up, who gave big bear hugs and giant grins. His older sister, Kelly Fennerty, told of her distress at learning he had joined the Army.

His mother, Maureen Fennerty, told of a son who loved Harry Potter books and cried easily -- a simple man who was "so proud to be a soldier."

His father, Dr. M. Brian Fennerty, spoke last. "Last September, just before leaving for Iraq, I knew you were scared, despite your bravado," he said, speaking directly to the casket, with its white pall and crucifix on top.

But Fennerty had told his father he was more worried about his fellow soldiers with families who would have to go on food stamps during deployment.

Fennerty had been scheduled to return home in February on leave. The holder of a bachelor's degree in history, he had hoped to earn a credential to teach the subject.

Remembrances may be sent to Army Emergency Relief for needy Army families, www.aerhq.org

From the Oregonian

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Joshua (William J.) Rechenmacher has services ahead of burial at Arlington

ORANGE PARK, FL -- Hundreds gathered in Orange Park to honor a soldier killed in his third tour of duty in Iraq.

24-year-old specialist William Joshua Rechenmacher died in Baghdad just over a week ago. A bomb exploded near his vehicle during combat operations.

Rechenmacher's body was flown into NAS Jax Friday.

Family members said burying their son was an incredibly heartbreaking experience for them, but it also was a proud one.

William Rechenmacher's family liked to call him by his middle name, Joshua.

Joshua was a lot of things: a father, a son, and a big brother. Kathrinne Rechenmacher is his 8-year-old sister.

"He would play with me all the time, whenever I was like a baby, and like 2 and 3. But he didn't come to our house that much. He was busy in the war," said Kathrinne.

That's because Josh was also a soldier.

"I can't express it, he just knew what we were doing in iraq was the right thing. And he knew there was a duty to be done over there. He enjoyed doing that duty," said David Rechenmacher, Joshua's Uncle.

David Rechenmacher says Josh enjoyed it so much, he volunteered to go over this last time.

"It was his choice, we're proud of his decisions and that, like I said, he knew there was a duty over there, and he wanted to do his duty."

Joshua didn't make it home alive.

"I wasn't expecting him to be killed. And what I heard from my mom and dad, was that he was the strongest guy in the army. I'm really proud of him. He gave up, well he didn't give up, but he died [doing] What he loved to do. And he died wanting to give us freedom," said his younger sister Kathrinne.

Now everyone is giving Josh a soldier's goodbye.

"It's just overwhelming. Just overwhelming. He was a great soldier," said Bobbi Kindred, Joshua's grandmother.

"I loved him very much. Very much. I just want him back," said Kathrinne.

Rechenmacher's name will be engraved into the Veteran's Memorial Wall because, like all the other soldiers listed there, he died fighting for his country.

The family says Joshua will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

From WJXX 25

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Matthew Grimm laid to rest

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. - Nearly 400 people attended a service this weekend to say goodbye to a 21-year-old soldier who died in Iraq.

Cpl. Matthew T. Grimm died Jan. 15 while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

Two photographs of Grimm, including his senior picture, were on the stage at the Performing Arts Center in Wisconsin Rapids, surrounded by six bouquets of flowers. A picture board was in a corner.

"This has happened way too soon," said Thomas Mancuso, principal of Lincoln High School, where Grimm graduated in 2004.

He described Grimm as a great role model, "for all of us, including adults."

Grimm's parents, Jean and Eldon, and Grimm's brother, Andrew, who was flown home from Iraq, sat directly in front of the flag-draped casket during the service.

"They're taking it very hard," said family friend Penny Estok, 46.

Grimm's friend, Andy Rohmeyer, spoke during the service.

"Matt and I met in grade school, and have been friends ever since," Rohmeyer said. "I could confide in Matt; he would listen to my problems without passing judgment.

Gov. Jim Doyle, Rep. Marlin Schneider, Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Mary Jo Carson, and other officials attended the service.

"I just know that our community is very proud, and saddened at the same time," Carson said.

From the Press

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John Cooper laid to rest

FLEMINGSBURG -- Protestors were absent from a local soldier's funeral Sunday, pride and honor were not.

A few hundred people gathered to pay their final respects to 29-year-old Staff Sgt. John E. Cooper of Fleming County, who was killed by a roadside bombing in Iraq on Jan. 15.

Members of the community became concerned after a Kansas hate group posted information on its Web site and leaked information to area media outlets that members would picket the funeral of the fallen soldier. As the funeral drew near, the community beefed up law enforcement in an effort to deter any sort of confrontation.

To much of the community's relief, the only demonstration was one of patriotism and honor. On the blustery winter day, men and women from as far away as Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia, lined the entrance of Fleming County High School, with flags in hand.

"We do this to show respect for the family and for the fallen soldier," said Bill Miller, ride captain for the Louisville division of the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcycle riders who make it their mission to honor service men and women.

Members of Taskforce Omega, a group of POW/MIA family members, soldiers and concerned citizens, were also present to show their support.

Danny "Greasy" Belcher, director of Veterans' Affairs for the Kentucky Motorcycle Association and leader of Taskforce Omega said Cooper's sacrifice, and others like him, have made it possible for Americans to enjoy their many liberties. Taskforce Omega's presence at the funeral was just a small way to say, "thanks."

To some, the funeral and life of Cooper evoked great pride.

As a father of two children, Cooper's brother, Terry, said, "I thought I knew what pride was."

After he learned of the death of his brother, his idea of pride changed, he said.

"It made me feel a pride I'd never felt before."

Over the next few days following his brothers death, after many calls, letters and visits from people in the community and across the nation, Terry said he felt an even greater pride in being "part of America."

Capt. David Stevenson, an Army chaplain, spoke during the funeral, comforting the crowd with the story of Lazarus from the Bible, explaining that God knew the family's pain. He used the popular verse, "Jesus wept," to console.

Stevenson also told the crowd that Cooper's life would have an impact on "generations to come."

Cooper's influence on future generations was immediately detected as his young nieces came forward to read poems saluting their beloved uncle and soldier.

"If not for a soldier's life, ours would fall apart," ended one of the poems.

Cooper's casket was draped with a flag, pictures of him hung nearby and patriotic flower arrangements surrounded his coffin.

During the funeral, Cooper was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge and a Purple Heart posthumously. The awards were given to his family.

Family members were also presented with Gold Stars, a military honor given to family members of fallen soldiers.

Faculty from Fleming County Middle School filled the bleachers. They were present to support Cooper's mother, Janice Botkin, who is employed by the school.

The Fleming County American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Detail were also present to escort the body to the hearse. An active duty group out of Ft. Knox was present to display full military honors during the burial.

Even with all the honors, some funeral goers felt more could be done.

As a mother of a soldier, Lidia Smith came to the funeral. Smith knows Cooper's mother and also identifies with her.

"I've had many sleepless nights," said Smith. She understands the worry and knows the fear of loss.

"There's not enough people here," said Smith of the funeral turn-out. She felt more people should have turned out to support the family.

Local veteran Brien Ferguson agreed.

"For 10 years, he's been there (in the service) for the community and the country, it's the least people could have done, to fill the gymnasium."

Although the gymnasium was not full, flags continued to wave at half-staff in the state, on order from Gov. Ernie Fletcher. And in Flemingsburg, law enforcement officials lined the streets to let the soldiers' motorcade pass without interruption. A few people were even out in the streets, waving flags, standing at attention, saying a final goodbye to their fallen hero.

From the Independent

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