Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 31st edition

July 31, 2003: Soldiers of the 115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard, question an Iraqi after searching his home for bomb-making materials. The search yielded one rifle, one knife, and pictures of Saddam, which were confiscated.

July 31, 2002:

US hunt for Iraq's ebola factory

A biological weapons laboratory in Iraq is said to be making a deadly strain of virus codenamed Blue Nile, which American intelligence officials believe is the Ebola virus.

Washington is trying to pinpoint the location of the laboratory, revealed by defectors and Iraqi exiles. They described underground test chambers, tight security and a staff of 85 people working to equip Iraqi's military with biological agents powerful enough to inflict heavy casualities on any American invading force.

The Pentagon is examining satellite images of the west bank of the Tigris river in Baghdad, the Washington Post reports today. "It sounds credible," a Pentagon intelligence analyst is quoted as saying. "But proving it is another matter."

Finding the laboratory is important to President Bush, whose justification for an attack on Iraq is that the country is making biological and nuclear weapons that could pose a threat to the United States.

None of the Iraq dissidents has given US intelligence conclusive information on the state of Saddam Hussein's weapons programme. Washington experts agree, however, that Iraq has the knowhow and equipment to create weapons of mass destruction. If the laboratory is up and running, it would provide evidence of a biological weapons programme that was kept secret from the West for more than 15 years, hidden from UN inspectors. The UN destroyed all Iraq's known biological munitions, but admits it could not find all of them. Iraq admitted to the inspectors it had made three types of biological weapons using anthrax bacteria and two kinds of biological toxins.

President Bush has told senior members of Congress the US will not launch a military attack on Iraq before the November midterm elections, giving Congress time to debate such an operation. The Pentagon has said it needs six more months to put forces in place to fight in Iraq.

Read the rest at the Evening Standard

July 31, 2003:

Bremer: Iraq elections possible within a year

Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council, struggling with questions about its legitimacy, could be replaced through general elections held within a year, Iraq's U.S. administrator said Thursday...

L. Paul Bremer, a former diplomat and counterterrorism expert, said he believed a new constitution could be written and accepted by the Iraqi people in a referendum, followed by general elections by the middle of next year.

"It is certainly not unrealistic to think that we could have elections by midyear 2004," Bremer said while touring the partially refurbished Iraqi Foreign Ministry with members of the interim government he appointed on July 13.

"And when a sovereign government is installed, the coalition authority will cede authority to the government and my job here will be over."

In the past, Bremer has said a government could be in place by the end of 2004. His optimism was surprising given that it took the Governing Council more than two weeks to agree on a presidency, its first order of business.

When the 25 members were unable to select a single president, they tried to come up with a three-member presidency before finally deciding on a nine-member team that will each hold the presidency for a month, council sources told The Associated Press.

The legitimacy of Iraq's government is key to rebuilding the country. On Wednesday, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said it was unclear whether the council had the legitimacy to receive international loans.

"Clearly a constitution and an elected government would constitute a recognized government, but what do we do in the meantime?" Wolfensohn said during a one-day trip to Baghdad. "It's a subject that needs interpretation."

An elected government also would allay doubts among many United Nations members, who have been hesitant to send peacekeeping troops to an Iraq occupied and administered by the United States, which snubbed the international body by launching its war.

The United States said it had to go to war despite a lack of majority support on the U.N. Security Council because of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. So far, none have been found and Iraqi scientists insist they don't exist.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2004:

Iraq police say the job is now perilous

Being an Iraqi police officer used to be a safe, cushy job that sometimes required chasing down pickpockets and car thieves, but left plenty of time for tea.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, however, insurgents armed with automatic weapons, mortars and car bombs have made law enforcement one of Iraq's most hazardous occupations.

"It used to be prestigious. ... People respected us, criminals were afraid of us," said 1st Lt. Amjid Mohammed, a 26-year-old detective at al-Bayaa police station, Baghdad's largest. "Today it's the opposite: It's we who are afraid."

Insurgents see police as collaborators with U.S.-led forces, who are struggling to restore order. They've blown up police stations all over the country, sometimes disguised as cops. They've gunned down officers in drive-by shootings as they left home for work, and they've battered police stations with mortar barrages and rocket-propelled grenades.

From April 2003 to May 2004 alone, 710 Iraqi police were killed out of a total force of 130,000 officers, authorities said. Until then, police say, an officer's death was nearly always of natural causes.

Last month's handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government has brought little change.

A truck bomb Wednesday targeted a police recruiting center in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where hundreds of job applicants were gathered. It killed 70 people.

"We're being targeted all the time," said Mohammed, his face scarred from a car-bombing that destroyed the al-Bayaa station in October, killing 15 Iraqis and one U.S. soldier.

On July 19, the two-story station was hit again by an explosives-packed fuel tanker. Nine died, including an officer. About 70 of al-Bayaa's 200 officers were wounded.

Mohammed was lucky: He was inside at the time. But he spent much of that day cleaning shards of glass from his office. Others tended to the wounded and picked pieces of charred flesh from rubble outside.

On July 24, assailants fired on police at a checkpoint in Baghdad's al-Shurta district, wounding seven, the Interior Ministry said. The next day, gunmen near Mahmoudiya, south of the capital, sprayed automatic weapons fire on a convoy carrying west Baghdad's police chief, killing two of his bodyguards.

In Mahmoudiya itself, assailants killed two police as they traveled to work. In the northern city of Kirkuk, another policeman was shot dead waiting for a ride home.

A few at al-Bayaa quit their jobs after this month's bombing. But such violence has done little to deter potential recruits, who are lining up outside the main police academy in Baghdad, said Sabbah Kadhim, an adviser to the interior minister. "We have plenty of applicants," he said.

Most are drawn by the salary of 295,000 Iraqi dinars a month, or $207, relatively good pay in a country where unemployment is high. "Where else can I get this kind of salary?" said Ziyad Khalaf, a 54, who's served 36 years in the Baghdad force. "I have a wife, six sons and three daughters. I have to feed them," he said, rubbing his thumb across his fingers, as if holding a wad of cash.

Crime surged after U.S. troops advanced into Baghdad in April 2003. Mohammed, who used to investigate one case on a busy day, now gets 40 to 50 case files on his desk daily.

"Our biggest problem used to be fistfights," said Mohammed. "Today we have gunfights, kidnappings, assassinations. It's 100 times worse."

During the Saddam era he carried no weapon. Now, like most officers, he tucks a Glock 9 mm pistol in his belt. Leaving the station Monday, he brought along an AK-47 assault rifle, too, in case his Glock ran out of bullets.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2005:

Report raises concerns about Iraqi reconstruction

The United States risks having "little to show for billions" of dollars spent on Iraqi reconstruction because of rising security costs and mismanagement, a new report said Sunday.

Rapidly escalating security costs have made it impossible for U.S. agencies to estimate how much they will need to finish projects intended to increase production of oil and electricity and improve sanitation and health, wrote Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

U.S. agencies must determine whether they have enough money to finish the projects and whether the Iraqis have "the tools and knowledge necessary" to keep the projects working after the Americans leave, Bowen wrote. "A failure on either of these points risks leaving little to show for billions in U.S. infrastructure investment," he said.

Bowen was appointed to monitor $18.4 billion allocated for Iraqi reconstruction in 2004. Overall, $24 billion has been approved and $9 billion spent since 2003, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' watchdog agency.

According to a report issued Thursday by the GAO, security costs are consuming more than a third of reconstruction funds. The report said that 330 private contractors, many of them working for security companies, had been killed.

Read the rest at USA Today

July 31, 2006:

Officials: Iraq shouldering war on terror

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two high-ranking Iraqi government officials said yesterday their country was fighting international terrorists on its own soil on behalf of other countries and should, as a result, be compensated with economic and military assistance.

Their comments suggested an emerging strategy from the fragile coalition government to portray Iraq as the global front line against terrorism and make a case for international aid...

The comments about international terrorists by the two Iraqi officials – the national security adviser and a deputy prime minister – echo the argument adopted by the Bush administration after the invasion in 2003 to justify its actions after its original contention that Saddam Hussein possessed unconventional weapons proved unfounded.

“We are fighting terrorism in Iraq, not only for Iraqis but also on behalf of the international community,” said Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister, during a news conference that covered a wide range of economic, security and anti-corruption initiatives.

National security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who also attended the news conference, made a statement of his own later using remarkably similar language.

“Iraq is now defending not only Iraqis but is also defending the region and the world,” al-Rubaie said. “So what is the world giving us in return?”

Al-Rubaie said Iraq, with its economy foundering and security forces under siege, urgently needed economic and military aid.

Mahdi al-Hafith, a member of parliament and former planning minister who leads an independent policy and development group, said he did not expect that the apparently coordinated statements would have much impact.

“We should have some specific and concrete details,” al-Hafith said in an interview. “Otherwise it is just a political statement.”

Al-Rubaie, Salih and the ministers of oil, finance and planning praised a five-year initiative with the United Nations announced last week to make the country more attractive to foreign investors by working to reduce corruption, create jobs and improve security.

Several American and European oil companies are foremost among the potential investors, eager for a share of Iraq's oil reserves, regarded as the second-largest in the world.

Read the rest at the San Diego Tribune

Security Summary: July 31, 2007

Above: A family watches as soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division conduct house searches in the Amariyah area of Baghdad today.

KUT - Police retrieved the bodies of six people, shot and tortured, from the Tigris River in the city of Kut, 170 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, and in the town of Suwayra, 40 km (25 miles) south of the capital, police said.

BAGHDAD - A U.S. Apache attack helicopter made a precautionary landing near New Baghdad district in eastern Baghdad after coming under attack from ground fire, the U.S. military said. The crew was safely evacuated.

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army checkpoint, wounding five soldiers, in western Mansour, police said. In a separate incident, a bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed one soldier and wounded seven, a hospital source said. Police said the only casualties in that incident were six wounded civilians.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi army arrested 36 insurgents in different parts of Iraq during the past 24 hours, the Defence Ministry said.

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces detained nine suspected insurgents during operations targeting al Qaeda in central and northern Iraq on Monday and Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

NEAR SAMARRA - Two policemen were killed and one wounded when a roadside bomb exploded close to their patrol near the city of Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.

BASRA - Pharmacists in the southern city of Basra went on strike after gunmen kidnapped the head of their syndicate on Monday, the Basra health directorate said.

ANBAR - A U.S. Marine was killed in combat in western Anbar province on Monday, the U.S. military said.

BAGHDAD - Gunmen killed an engineer repairing the famous Sarafiya Bridge, damaged by a bomb in April, near his home in northern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - Three people were wounded by a roadside bomb targeting a U.S. military patrol in the New Baghdad district of eastern Baghdad, police said.

ISKANDARIYA - Gunmen killed two men in a drive-by shooting in Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, on Monday, police said.

From Reuters/Alternet

Reports: $20 billion arms sale part of 3-step plan to contain Iran; Includes U.S. bases in Iraq, doubling of Saudi, Kuwait military

Above: Aviation Ordnancemen load an AIM-9x "Sidewinder" missile onto an F/A-18C Hornet aboard the USS Nimitz during its Persian Gulf deployment in May. The Sidewinder is a supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile that can be fired day or night and is the newest air-to-air missile in the Navy and Marine Corps inventory.

U.S. Arms Plan for Mideast Aims to Counter Iranian Power

The Bush administration said Monday that its plan to provide billions of dollars in advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel over the next 10 years was intended in part to serve as a bulwark against Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East...

R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said Monday that a majority of the weapons systems intended for the Gulf states were defensive...

Mr. Burns said that under the plan American military aid for Israel would increase to $3 billion annually over 10 years, from $2.4 billion now. Mr. Burns said Egypt, another crucial Sunni Arab country under pressure from Washington to embrace Iraq’s Shiite-led government, would receive a total of $13 billion.

But Mr. Burns declined to provide specifics about the packages intended for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, saying those details were still being hammered out.

In the past, Israel has successfully lobbied the United States against selling AIM-9X missiles, used on jet fighters for aerial combat, to countries like Egypt out of fear that they could shift the military balance in the Middle East. A Congressional aide familiar with details of the Bush administration plans said AIM-9X missiles were part of the package planned for Egypt.

Read the rest at the NY Times

America Refurbishes its Gulf-Red Sea Defenses against Iran Menace

Built around a massive $20 bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it involves a broad boost for US defenses against Iran by means of a three-line deployment strategy across the Persian Gulf and Middle East devised by Secretary Gates.

The system, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, has three powerful components or levels:

The Iraq Level: US forces remaining in Iraq after the withdrawal would redeploy to giant extraterritorial land and air bases located mainly in the central and northern regions.

The Gulf Level: The US would double in size the armies and air forces of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, and augment its military facilities in the Gulf region by expansion and new bases.

The Red Sea Level: Jordan and Israel military strength would form the backbone of this line supplemented by new American bases.

Read the rest at Debka

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Reports: Iran to buy 250 advanced fighter jets from Russia

Above: The Sukhoi-30 is a two-seat multi-role fighter jet and bomber capable of operating at significant distances from home base and in poor weather conditions. The aircraft enjoys a wide range of combat capabilities and is used for air patrol, air defense, ground attacks, enemy air defense suppression and air-to-air combat.

Reports: Iran to buy jets from Russia

Israel is looking into reports that Russia plans to sell 250 advanced long-range Sukhoi-30 fighter jets to Iran in an unprecedented billion-dollar deal.

According to reports, in addition to the fighter jets, Teheran also plans to purchase a number of aerial fuel tankers that are compatible with the Sukhoi and capable of extending its range by thousands of kilometers. Defense officials said the Sukhoi sale would grant Iran long-range offensive capabilities...

Despite Israeli and US opposition, Russia recently supplied Iran with advanced antiaircraft systems used to protect Teheran's nuclear installations. At the time, Moscow said it reserved the right to sell Iran weapons, such as the antiaircraft system, that were of a defensive nature.

Read the rest at the Jerusalem Post

Iran buys 250 long-distance Sukhoi fighter-bombers, 20 fuel tankers, from Russia

Tehran and the Russian Rosoboronexport arms group are about to sign a mammoth arms deal running into tens of billions of dollars for the sale to Tehran of 250 Su-30MKM warplanes and 20 IL-78 MKI fuel tankers. DEBKAfile’s military sources report Iran has stipulated delivery of the first aircraft before the end of 2007.

The transaction, Russia’s largest arms deal in 30 years, will endow Iran with a long-range aerial assault capability. The Sukhoi can sustain a four-and-a-half hour raid at its maximum range of 3,000 km against long-distance, marine and low-lying ground targets across the Persian Gulf and Middle East, including Israel and Lebanon.

The fuel tankers extends the Su-30MKM’s assault sustainability to 10 hours and its range to 8,000 km at altitudes of 11-13 km. The closest comparable plane in the West is the American F-15E fighter bomber. Iran’s acquisition of an exceptionally large fleet of the Russian fighter-bomber will elevate its air force to one of the two largest and most advanced in the region, alongside the Israeli Air Force.

Iranian air crews are already training on the new Sukhoi aircraft, ready to start flying them early next year with only a short delay after delivery. DEBKAfile’s sources report that Moscow is selling Tehran the same Sukhoi model as India received earlier this year. The Iranians leaned hard on New Delhi to let them have the Israeli avionics and electronics the Indian Air Force had installed in the Russian craft. India refused.

Read the rest at Debka

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Treasury Secretary Paulson: U.S. may default uness $9 trillion debt limit raised by October

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Monday said the United States may be unable to pay its bills this fall unless Congress raises the government's borrowing authority, now capped at $8.965 trillion.

Paulson, in a letter to lawmakers, estimated the government is likely to bump into the statutory debt limit in early October...

The administration, however, has defended the increases as essential to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to cover other costs to keep the United States secure.

Separately, the government expects to borrow $73 billion in the July-to-September quarter, which would be more than previously forecast, the Treasury Department said.

The new estimate is $31 billion higher than a projection made in April. The department partly blamed increased government spending for the new, larger quarterly borrowing projection. It comes as the department considers the government's financing needs, which it does on a quarterly basis.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

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Report: 'Corruption protected by senior members of the Iraqi government remains untouchable'

Left: Iraqis line up to buy kerosene. The report said "corruption is a major problem" in the Oil Ministry and contributes to the shortage of refined oil products.

Supplies and medicine in strife-torn Baghdad's overcrowded hospitals have been siphoned off and sold elsewhere for profit because of “untouchable” corruption in the Iraqi Ministry of Health, according to a draft U.S. government report obtained by NBC News.

The report, written by U.S. advisers to Iraq's anti-corruption agency, analyzes corruption in 12 ministries and finds devastating and grim problems. "Corruption protected by senior members of the Iraqi government remains untouchable," the report sad.

One potential problem is in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to the report.

The report said that "the prime minister’s office has on a number of occasions intervened on cases involving political supporters."

Read the rest at MSNBC

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Report: Iraq misses deadline for census of voters eligible for Kirkuk referendum

U.S. Army troops with 25th Infantry Division and a Kurdish Iraqi policeman question local Arab construction workers in Kirkuk in May with the help of a translator needed by all 3.

Iraq's government has missed its deadline to compile a list of people eligible to vote in a December referendum that will determine the fate of a large, oil-rich and bitterly disputed swathe of the country, officials of northern Iraq's Kurdistan autonomous region saidyesterday.

Politicians from the Shia-led bloc that dominates the government and the Kurdish parties that are its main allies had agreed before the formation of the national unity government in June 2006 that today would be the deadline for a "census" of the inhabitants of Kirkuk and other "disputed territories" of northern Iraq.

However, the deadline appears to have passed without a census being completed, raising doubts as to whether the government is willing to follow through on its commitments.

Read the rest at the Financial Times

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Memo: State Department offering preferred post-Iraq assignments to diplomats who voluntarily serve 1 year in Baghdad

Above: The current U.S. embassy in Baghdad is scheduled to be replaced by a newly-built half-billion dollar complex in September.

Facing the challenge of finding diplomats to serve amid the violence and chaos in Baghdad, the U.S. State Department offers new incentives to its diplomats to work in the embassy.

According to a memo sent to employees last Friday and obtained by ABC News, the State Department is allowing diplomats who volunteer to serve the next year in Iraq to choose their following assignment now, including coveted and more comfortable posts in Western Europe...

In June, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced to employees that all positions in the Baghdad Embassy must be filled before other jobs are opened, and that the Department would begin taking early volunteers for Iraq immediately, well ahead of the usual application cycle for 2008 assignments, which begins in September.

Read the rest at ABC News

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Gaskin: Iraqi Army lacks logistics to remain battle ready

Above: U.S. soldiers train Iraqis on repairing their battle-damaged up-armored Humvees as well as conducting preventative maintenance checks and service both before and after the missions at FOB Falcon on June 22.

Iraq‘s archaic system for supplying and sustaining its troops on the battlefield is a major hurdle in the U.S. effort to fashion an independent Iraqi fighting force, according to a top American military commander.

"Realistically, if things are going the way they‘re going now, you‘d say a year from now the Iraqis training-wise would be ready to do the types of operations we expect of them," Gaskin said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I am not as optimistic about them being able to fix the logistics system."

When vehicles and weapons break down, repair requests are shuttled through a cumbersome and time-consuming approval process. By contrast, the American logistics system is largely automated and operated by military personnel.

Making matters worse, many of the Iraqis who could make this flawed process function were lost when the country‘s army was disbanded in May 2003 by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

Read the rest at the Akron Farm Report

Apache helicopter makes precautionary landing after coming under fire, no casualties

Above: An Apache attack helicopter over Iraq. The gunship carries a crew of two pilots.

A U.S. helicopter went down Tuesday after coming under fire in eastern Baghdad, and the crew members were safely evacuated, the military said.

The AH-64 Apache helicopter made a precautionary landing after facing ground fire east of the predominantly Shiite New Baghdad district, according to a statement...

The two crew members were taken to a U.S. military hospital for a routine evaluation, the military said.

Read the rest at ABC News

Report: Kurdish security arrest 50 waving Iraqi flags following soccer win

Above: U.S. soldiers from Hawaii pose in front of the Kurdish and Iraqi national flags. Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, ordered the Iraqi flag replaced with the Kurdish flag last September.

Kurdish security forces in the northern autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq have arrested 50 young people who were waving the Iraqi national flag to celebrate the country's victory in the Asian Cup football.

A police officer in the Dohuk province said those arrested were predominantly Christians or members of the Yezidi minotiry, a religious community which passes on its beliefs via oral tradition.

For the autonomous Kurdistan region, the flag is a particularly sensitive issue. Security forces in the three northern provinces of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulamaniya have been ordered by the government to arrest anyone displaying the Iraqi national flag - considered a symbol of Arab nationalism and a reminder of the repression of Kurds under the regime of Saddam Hussein

The regional president Massoud Barzani last year replaced the national flag with a regional flag.

Read the rest at AKI

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Norway stops training of Iraqi police after 10 disappear

Above: NATO's Joint Warfare Center at Stavanger, Norway.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (UD) has decided to stop the training of Iraqi police officers in Norway, after 10 officers have defected. Instead, UD plans to support the training in Iraq.

The ten Iraqi police officers have disappeared from their quarters over the past seven months, and it is not known where they are.

Altogether 158 Iraqi police officers have received training at the NATO joint Warfare Center near Stavanger.

The course covers western police theory and administration, human rights and equal rights.

Earlier, the course has been criticised for being useless in the civil war-torn nation of Iraq.

"Maybe in a hundred years we will be able to apply our training," a high-ranking Iraqi police officer said.

The NATO Joint Warfare Centre at Jaattaa has been playing a key role in the training of higher ranking Iraqi officers and public servants.

Read the rest at the Norway Post

Monday, July 30, 2007

Chris Scherer laid to rest

In the days before Marine Cpl. Christopher Scherer was deployed to Iraq, he handed his mother a poem he found on the Internet.

"If ever I go to war, my friends, we'll never be apart," one stanza says. "Though we may not meet again, I'll hold you in my heart. Remember all the times we had, don't let your memories cease. Your friend's a Marine now, friend, and I'll die to bring you peace."

Yesterday, his parents, Janet and Tim Scherer, of East Northport, read those lines at a funeral service filled past capacity for their 21-year-old son, who was killed by a sniper in Iraq on July 21.

While her son understood the risks of war, Janet Scherer recalled yesterday, "It was always very simple for him: It was his job and he loved it."

More than 20 people spoke at the funeral at the Centerport United Methodist Church, where several hundred attended, some in different rooms watching the service by video.

The hearse was greeted by dozens of service members, police officers, firefighters and residents lining Little Neck Road.

Some held long poles with large American flags. Men took off their hats. One man placed his hand over his heart.

At the funeral, Christopher Scherer was recalled as a fun-loving son and brother by his family; a young man with an overwhelming sense of duty. He decided to join the Marines at age 15 and, with his parents' permission, enlisted a year early when he turned 17.

"Chris was a Marine long before he enlisted," said the Rev. Chuck Van Houten. "This was his goal in life - to serve."

Scherer's younger twin sisters, Meghan and Katie, both 18, said they looked up to him as a hero before he became a Marine, when he protected them in school.

Most of all, his family remembered his sense of humor. Even on this saddest of days, his parents, big brother, Timothy Jr., 22, and sisters smiled in the pews as one speaker after another recalled Scherer's hijinks, especially his impressions of actors.

"When I think about Chris, I can't help but smile," said Meghan Scherer. "He always had us laughing."

It was a trait that extended to the barracks. Lt. Col. Wayne Sinclair, Scherer's battalion commander, said many Marines recalled Scherer's bushy mustache in Iraq and how he reacted when a commander ordered all Marines to shave.

"Sir, I can't shave it off," Scherer told his platoon commander, Lt. Doug Orr. "I ain't got nothing else."

"What do you mean?" Orr said jokingly, according to Sinclair. "We got each other right?"

Then Scherer started singing Bon Jovi's hit, "Without Love," at the top of his lungs.

"He had the platoon in stitches," Sinclair said.

Scherer's favorite drink was Guinness, and the family buried him with one bottle in the coffin. Last night, Scherer's father said, they had plans to drink a 12-pack with Scherer's friends, with one rule: You must tell a story about Scherer with every swig.

From Newsday

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Christopher G. Scherer dies of 'wounds suffered while conducting combat operations'

Richard Gilmore laid to rest

At least 300 mourners said farewell on Saturday to Army Spc. Richard Gilmore III, Walker County’s first fatality of the war in Iraq.

His funeral was held at the football stadium at Walker High School, where he graduated in 2003.

The family and officials took seats on the east side of the field, facing the casket and red, white and blue-themed floral arrangement.

Gilmore, 22, of Carbon Hill, died on July 18 in Adhamiyah, Iraq, along with three other soldiers, when their unit’s patrol vehicle was attacked by enemy forces using a roadside bomb and small-arms fire.

He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq.

“Spc. Richard Gilmore III was a brave young man who volunteered two times to go to the front lines," Alshiki Tucker, a friend of the Gilmore family, said during a tribute at the funeral.

“Minister Gilmore’s [Richard Gilmore’s father] heroic son paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country," Tucker said. “Love has no greater sacrifice than this, to lay down your life for a friend."

Gilmore and the other three soldiers killed during the attack were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division based in Schweinfurt, Germany.

“He has proven the integrity placed in him by his good father and mother did not go by the wayside," the Rev. Dennis Farley prayed. “We rejoice because this, your child, has found his way home ... He lived with honor. He died with honor. Because of you soon, we know he will live forever."

Pastor D.L. Bobbitt said God had “loaned Gilmore out" and now has taken him back.

“I know grief is in the midst," Bobbitt said. “But someone ought to shout hallelujah! Hope can be shaken, but it cannot be totally removed."

Devos Hammond, who grew up with Gilmore said he hates that Gilmore was killed in Iraq.

“We got a lot of young people over in Iraq getting killed for nothing," said Hammond, 26, of Jasper. “They’re all fighting an oil war."

“And for President Bush to say so much about the war, where is he?" he said. “He could come down here just for a second and at least tell Richard’s family thanks for dying for his country."

Sabrena Smith, who went to Walker High School with Gilmore, said Gilmore died doing the right thing.

“Why everyone else is dying in the street over stupid petty stuff, Richard was doing something constructive with his life," said Smith, 20.

Gilmore’s godfather, John McCollum, agreed with Smith.

“Richard had a mission and he volunteered for it," McCollum said. “It was his second tour over there so he wanted to be there."

“I hate that he lost his life, but you got to take the bitter with the sweet," he said.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, commanding general of the Army Aviation and Missile Command, presented the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart to Gilmore’s family.

“Richard was a team player. He thought about others before he thought about himself," Myles said.

He is survived by his wife, Jimmie Sue P. Gilmore, and young children Malakiah J. Gilmore and Alexis P. Gilmore.

Gilmore’s family also was presented a certificate and message from Gov. Bob Riley, who called on all Alabamians to remember Gilmore’s sacrifice.

A flag flown over the Alabama Capitol in Gilmore’s honor was also presented to the family, as well as the Distinguished Service Medal from the Alabama National Guard. A representative of the American Legion presented a Gold Star.

Burial with military honors was in Oak Hill Cemetery.

From the Tuscaloosa News

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Ron Joshua laid to rest

Family and friends Thursday remembered a soldier from Central Texas recently killed in Iraq.

The funeral for Private 1st Class Ron Joshua, Jr., 19, was held in Pflugerville. With young and old standing at the ready with American flags draped by the sides, family and friends came to pay their respects to Joshua.

He was killed last week by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad.

"It is kind of hard, but today is the day we can actually start the healing, but we just have to get through today first," said Joshua's uncle, Bruce Drew.

One of Joshua's best friends in life, Naivi Garcia, sang at his funeral.

"I didn't get to say goodbye to him the day that he left. I always assumed he would be back, so this is my way of saying goodbye to him, the way he always wanted me to," Garcia said.

Family members say Joshua's favorite Bible verse was Joshua 1:9, where the Lord commands believers to be strong and courageous, never terrified nor discouraged because the Lord their God will be with them always. Joshua actually had that tattooed on his left arm.

"I guess it was just his destiny. I mean, I guess, in a way he knew, and so did God and that's why it was on his arm, his left arm, closest to his heart," Garcia said.

After the ceremony in Pflugerville, the Patriot Guard Riders -- motorcyclists who honor fallen soldiers -- for the first time rode off in a missing man formation. They lead the way to a private ceremony in Killeen where Joshua underwent basic training at Fort Hood.

"I don't think he would regret his life. I think that what he did, he wanted to do. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew the person he was going to become, and I'm very proud of him for it," Garcia said."

Joshua is the 28th Central Texas serviceman to die since the war started in Iraq.


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Spanky Harrelson laid to rest

Hundreds of people came together in Dadeville and Alexander City Friday to remember Pfc. James Jacob "Spanky" Harrelson, who was killed last week in Iraq.

"Today I represent the secretary of the Army, but even bigger than that, I stand as a representative of the more than 1 million who wear the uniform of the U.S. Military," said Brig. Gen. Brian Collins. "Today we are grieving because a friend, a fellow soldier, is being laid to rest."

During the funeral service a the First Baptist Church of Dadeville, Collins said Harrelson had been awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

"Today I have the awesome responsibility and privilege to present the family with these awards," Collins said. "These are but a small token of appreciation of a grateful nation."

Harrelson, 19, died July 17 in Baghdad from wounds he received when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb. He had been serving in Iraq since May. He served with the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Riley, Kan.

"He was always wanting to be a part of things and to help," said Rev. Ken Griffith, Harrelson's former pastor who knew him as a child.

Harrelson's brother, Christopher Baker, who served a tour in Iraq as a sergeant with the U.S. Marines, said his family was deeply saddened at the loss of their loved one, but was also proud that his brother gave his life in the service of his country.

"He considered it his duty," Baker said. "He believed in serving his country."

Friends and family gathered for the burial at Hillview Memorial Park in Alexander City, which was also attended by more than 20 Patriot Guard Riders on their motorcycles.

From the Daily Comet

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Nathan Barnes laid to rest

HUNDREDS OF BOY SCOUTS, each bearing a U.S. flag and standing at attention, lined streets in American Fork on Saturday to honor a fallen soldier.

Sgt. Nathan S. Barnes, 23, was killed in action near Rushdi Mullah, Iraq, on July 17. Barnes was born and raised in American Fork.

The route from the Alpine Tabernacle in American Fork to the city cemetery was shut down to all traffic as hundreds of Scouts and their leaders lined both sides of the entire procession, standing at attention as the hearse and dozens of cars passed.

At the cemetery, family and friends were greeted by a bagpipe player. The burial site was lined with a double row of flags, and members of the public lined the streets for a glimpse of the fallen soldier's entourage.

Prior to the procession, hundreds gathered at the tabernacle for a two-hour hero's farewell.

Barnes's sister, Lisa Blake, called Barnes an ideal brother who loved the outdoors, reading and writing. She nicknamed him "Noodle, because he was so skinny," she said. "I will never go to the mountains again without wishing he was there."

An avid reader, her brother believed "fiction taught more truth than true stories, and he always applied what he learned to his life," she said. "He wrote beautifully, too. He had big plans and I know he would have achieved them all and more."

She began to weep. "I was so looking forward to watching him achieve them...

"I was born free but remain free because of people like Nathan. I consider it an honor to have a hero for a brother. There is a heavy void in my heart."

Michael Barnes said his brother once wrote a difficult letter home, telling his family a military maneuver meant to scare away snipers went awry, killing a small Iraqi girl in her home. In a letter describing the experience, Nathan wrote "That happens in war" but later called his brother to apologize for the comment. Michael said he told Nathan not to apologize, and thanked him for his sacrifices for his country.

"They go over there willing to take these scars for the rest of us," Michael said, crying heavily as he spoke. "I can say I knew one of the greatest people who ever lived. I know because of the atonement of Jesus Christ that I will see him again. I will see his wonderful, infectious smile and I will be home again."

Timothy Barnes quoted a letter from his brother, written from Iraq.

"I have definitely learned from all of this," Nathan wrote after summarizing his experiences in the military. "So if any of you are wondering if I think the Army is worth it, the answer is yes."

Timothy Barnes and other family members said they had struggled to come to terms with the untimely death of Nathan.

"Over the past 10 to 12 days I have wondered, how could some guy in Iraq be allowed to do this to our family?" he said. "I think the answer is that this is part of our Heavenly Father's plan. Nathan was going in the right direction spiritually when this happened. I'm sure he is busy, and if he is sad, it is only because we are sad."

"In the end, he turned to face the enemy and died in glory," said brother Jay Barnes. "We will not forget the heroism he displayed and the honor he brought to himself and his parents. He understood the price of freedom, but he did not shirk when his time came."

After the service, the hearse and family limousines where given a double escort by police and veterans bearing flags on motorcycles. Following the dedication of the grave, Barnes was given a military gun salute and his parents were presented with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart earned by their son's heroism in the face of an enemy of the Unites States.

Just as the grave was dedicated, a stiff breeze unfurled the dozens of flags surrounding family and friends in the cemetery. Minutes later, just as the Purple Star was awarded, the breeze unfurled the flags again, as if in final tribute.

After the flag from the casket was presented to Barnes's mother, Donna, the family ended the service by placing white roses on the casket.

From the Herald Extra

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Brandon Bobb laid to rest

PORT ARTHUR — The spirit of true American heroism was in Thomas Blvd. Church of Christ Saturday morning as family and friends gathered with heavy hearts to celebrate the life of and pay tribute to Pfc. Brandon Keith Bobb.

After singing the always touching hymn, Amazing Grace, Bobb’s family was comforted by the words of the faithful who said their fallen soldier will live on forever in the hearts and memories of his loved ones.

“In a world of give and take, only a few are willing to give what it takes and Brandon was one of them,” said the Rev. Corey Shaw in his sermon. “Brandon did not die on July 17. He will not die until we destroy his memory from our hearts.”

Grasping to those memories, Bobb’s cousin Ashley Bobb said she always felt like Brandon was more of a little brother to her. Reminiscing about times she and Brandon played basketball together or got into mischief at their grandparents, Ashley Bobb said her cousin was an extension of herself.

“We were thick as thieves and I thought I could always protect him,” she said through tears. “But he protected me with his life and I stand here today as strong as I can be, but he stood out there with his courage for his family and for his country. He was a great man and a great American hero.”

Other family members also shared their memories of Brandon, who as a child always wanted to be a hero.

“He used to tie a towel around his neck and pretend to be a hero,” Bobb’s aunt said. “He wasn’t afraid to go to Iraq and he always encouraged his cousins to be the best they could be.”

A soldier spoke on behalf of the U.S. Army and read to the family a poem that said Bobb has arrived safely in his mansion above where he will serve as a soldier in another capacity — a soldier of Christ.

“I no longer fear for tomorrow and the Lord has told me that my works were not in vain,” the soldier read.

Bobb’s mother was then presented with her son’s Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart for his service to his country and for the ultimate sacrifice of his life.

“Greater love hath no man than he who lays down his life for his brother,” said another Army representative to the grieving family and friends. “Brandon was one of the best the Army has to offer. In the Army, we respect our soldiers like our own children and now our responsibility to Brandon is to honor him not with our words, but with our actions.”

The third Port Arthur soldier to lose his life in the War on Terror, Bobb, 20, died July 17, after a roadside bomb struck his vehicle in Iraq. With Bobb that fateful day was his battle buddy and friend, Pfc. Ron J. Joshua Jr., 19, of Austin, who also died as a result of the attack.

The young men were in basic training together and had developed a lasting friendship during their time in the Army. Both men were assigned to the 401st Military Police Company, 92nd Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, Fort Hood.

Brittany Joshua, Ron Joshua’s young sister, spoke at the funeral of her brother’s best friend.

“I felt like I’ve lost two brothers,” the teen said. “It’s hard to see what everyone’s going through, but I’m happy — sort of — that they went together. They were brothers.”

After Paula Bobb-Miles, Bobb’s mother, received the American flag that covered her son’s casket, Bobb’s body was escorted to Greenlawn Cemetery for burial by the Patriot Guard riders and the Port Arthur Police Department.

From the Orange Leader

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Daniel Leckel remembered

In the fall of 2005, Daniel Leckel told his parents he was dropping out of college to join the Army.

They knew his motives were right — he wanted to serve his country and make money to help pay for his education.

But, "We tried to discourage him," said his stepfather, Richard LeCrone, a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in Grants Pass. "I've been there, and done that, and I didn't want him to go."

Last Wednesday morning, when LeCrone and Leckel's mother, Cathy LeCrone, heard knocks on the door, their stomachs sank.

An Army chaplain was on the stoop. "We opened the door and saw him, and we knew," said Cathy LeCrone. "We just knew."

The chaplain told them Leckel, 19, had been killed in small-arms fire in southern Baghdad.

Born in Portland, Leckel moved to Glendale in middle school and graduated from Glendale High in 2005. He spent a semester at Rogue Community College and hoped to become a sports writer, but in late 2005 he put those dreams on hold.

In January 2007, Leckel was sent to Iraq. He wrote his parents detailed accounts of his life there, describing the dangers of Baghdad but also the fun.

"One Iraqi family invited him to dinner, and he wrote us everything he ate," his stepfather said. "They had rice and lamb stew and pita bread. He seemed to like it."

Leckel's MySpace profile has a photo of children waving. Recently he asked his parents to send him candy to hand out to Iraqi kids. The LeCrones shipped 6 pounds of sweets to Baghdad.

Richard LeCrone said Leckel told his family that he loved the brotherhood of his unit. "He always liked being part of a team," LeCrone said. "And those squads are teams."

The LeCrones are trying to heal, but they're plagued by near-constant regret. Richard LeCrone remembers one of Leckel's dreams that now will never be realized. "He loved the Atlanta Braves and he always wanted to get back there to see one of their games," LeCrone said, his voice trailing off.

"He was a great kid," he said. "He deserved better than this."

From the Oregonian

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Joshua Mattero remembered

The family of a Chula Vista soldier killed in Iraq shared their memories of the man who is being remembered as a hero.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Mattero, 29, was killed in Iraq Tuesday while attempting to detonate a bomb, military officials said. He was a member of the Army and was the senior enlisted man in his unit, assigned to an explosive ordinance battalion out of Andrews Air Force Base.

Mattero's sister, brother and mother shared memories of their loved one with NBC 7/39 Friday.

Melissa Mattero said, "He was one I always looked up to. No matter what I needed he was always there."

His mother Sarah Mattero said her son was fun-loving and spontaneous. She told NBC 7/39 what Army officials said to her when they delivered the news of her son's death.

"They were very emphatic that he was a hero. Because of him there were very many lives saved that day. What he was doing was extremely hard," she said.

Mattero was a graduate of Castle Park High School and was an Eagle Scout. He joined the Army nine years ago.

His family said he kept in constant touch with them by e-mail and phone calls and was looking forward to meeting his brother and sister at Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany.

Melissa Mattero said when she thinks of her brother, she thinks of his positive personality.

"I can't think of one person who didn't like him. No matter where he went, he was always finding friends. That one person who was the center of attention or playing that one prank to make everyone laugh."

The family said a memorial service will be held here in the San Diego area, but they have not made firm plans. They said Mattero's final resting place would likely be at Arlington National Cemetery.

From NBC 7

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Michael Baloga remembered

EVERETT - Michael Baloga was willing to die to give his daughter a better life.

Baloga, 21, of Everett abandoned construction work so he could join the Army. After putting in his time, he planned on going to school, then launching a career so he could provide for his 1-year-old daughter, Isis.

He wanted to see her grow into womanhood. On his Myspace Web page, Baloga wrote that two of his biggest goals were to watch Isis graduate, and to give her away at her wedding.

Baloga, a private, died Thursday in Iraq after his convoy delivering medical supplies was attacked, his sister, Leah Valade of Marysville, said.

Valade lost her brother and her best friend, she said.

"I was really worried about him going into the military," she said. "I knew the risks that were involved, especially in going right now."

Baloga, a Sequoia High School graduate, is survived by two sisters and a brother in Everett. Valade lives in Marysville. Family members are gathering at his father's house in Idaho to plan memorial services.

A trust fund for Isis is being arranged, Valade said. So is a memorial service for Baloga's friends and family in Everett, she said.

"The most important thing in all his life was his family, and ... Isis," Valade said.

The military sent Baloga to Iraq last November, three days after Isis' first birthday.

Using the Internet, he managed to stay in regular contact with family and friends. He and Valade communicated almost daily, she said.

The last time they talked to each other was Monday. Baloga asked her to send a package of candy and baby wipes, which soldiers use to clean themselves in the field.

"The family fully supported him," Valade said. "Michael was a considerate person, the best friend you could possibly ask for."

Baloga enjoyed music, dancing and going to raves in the Seattle area. He was friends with the six people who were gunned down at a house party on Capitol Hill in March 2006.

When he was young, he dreamt of becoming a marine biologist. He loved the ocean, Valade said.

Baloga got married during the summer of 2005. He and his wife - Isis' mother - were going through an amicable divorce when he died.

He turned his life around when Isis came into his world, Valade said.

Since his death, friends and family have left several messages on his Myspace page. In a blog entry dated June 24, Baloga urged people to remember that life goes on, no matter what happens.

"The past is the past," he wrote. "It doesn't change. All you can do is trudge (through) it and keep on going."

From the Everett Herald

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Heath McRae remembered

The insurgency in Iraq has claimed the life of another North Texas serviceman, a Marine from Springtown who left college and joined the military to fulfill a patriotic calling.

Cpl. James Heath McRae, 22, a 2003 graduate of Springtown High School, was killed Tuesday in the Diyala province, the Defense Department announced.

Relatives said he was driving a Humvee when a roadside bomb exploded. Two other Marines — Lance Cpl. Robert Lynch, 20, of Louisville, Ky., and Cpl. Matthew Zindars, 21, of Watertown, Wis. — also died.

"I talked to him Monday," his mother, Rhonda McRae, said Thursday. "He was in good spirits, but he was tired. He was staying as busy as he could to make the time go by faster. He was ready to come home."

Cpl. McRae is the 34th service member from the Fort Worth area to die in Iraq, and the second in four days. Army Cpl. Rhett Allen Butler, a Glen Rose native, died July 20.

Services for Cpl. McRae are pending at White’s Funeral Home in Azle. But his family has decided that he will be buried at Willow Point, a small cemetery in southwestern Jack County near the family ranch.

"We had never talked about that," his mother said. "It’s where his dad and I chose."

Cpl. McRae, born July 6, 1985, at Harris Methodist Northwest Hospital, grew up in Springtown, learning at an early age how to fix fences and work cattle and how to repair boat and car engines under the watchful eye of his dad, Bill McRae.

He enjoyed deer hunting and especially loved fishing, whether in the stock tanks on the family ranch or on a charter boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

"He was the baby and the only son," his mother said.

But Heath, as he was known, was not strictly a country boy.

Outgoing and never wanting for a date, he played trombone in the Springtown marching band and the jazz band. His skill earned him a music scholarship to Weatherford College, which he attended for a year.

He taught himself how to play the guitar and tried to match Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan in a garage band that played at Springtown talent shows.

"He was a team player," said retired Springtown band director J.B. Perry. "For one thing, he stuck with it all the way through, from sixth grade to his senior year. And he gave it his best and showed a good attitude the whole way. Not all students can do that."

Cpl. McRae believed he needed to repay his debt to his country by enlisting in the service, his mother said.

In May 2004, he shipped off for boot camp and had been home very little since. He was serving as a diesel mechanic on Okinawa, Japan, when he was attached to a California-based unit destined for Iraq.

After a week at home in Springtown, he deployed in April to the Ramadi area, his mother said. "The day before he left from San Diego, we went to SeaWorld with some of his friends, and we went to the pier and ate out," she said. "We had a wonderful time."

Other survivors include two sisters, Misty Rix of Oahu, Hawaii, and Amy Styles of Springtown.

Cpl. McRae’s family has set up a memorial fund in his name that will benefit young people who want to pursue music education. Send contributions to Cornerstone Community Church, P.O. Box 836, Springtown, TX 76082.

From the Star Telegram

Related Link:
Heath (James H.) McRae dies 'while conducting combat operations'