Sergeant Kevin Benderman cannot shake the images from his head. There are bombed villages and desperate people. There are dogs eating corpses thrown into a mass grave. And most unremitting of all, there is the image of a young Iraqi girl, no more than eight or nine, one arm severely burnt and blistered, and the sound of her screams.
Last January, these memories became too much for this veteran of the war in Iraq. Informed his unit was about to return, he told his commanders he wanted out and applied to be considered a conscientious objector. The Army refused and charged him with desertion. Last week, his case - which carries a penalty of up to seven years' imprisonment - started before a military judge at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
"If I am sincere in what I say and there's consequences because of my actions, I am prepared to stand up and take it," Sgt Benderman said. "If I have to go to prison because I don't want to kill anybody, so be it."
The case of Sgt Benderman and those of others like him has focused attention on the thousands of US troops who have gone Awol (Absent Without Leave) since the start of President George Bush's so-called war on terror. The most recent Pentagon figures suggest there are 5,133 troops missing from duty. Of these 2,376 are sought by the Army, 1,410 by the Navy, 1,297 by the Marines and 50 by the Air Force. Some have been missing for decades.
The above is from "The deserters: Awol crisis hits the US forces" in the UK's Independent. We're doing the second part of what's being reported outside the United States and we'll be focusing on Iraq for this entry.
From Scotland's The Herald, we'll note Michael Settle's "Galloway heads for lions’ den to give them hell:"
A DEFIANT George Galloway is to defend himself before US senators next week in the oil-for-food row, and last night predicted he would "give them hell" when he enters the lions' den.
Their allegations are that he received vouchers for millions of barrels of oil from Saddam Hussein.
The Scottish MP, who dismissed the claims as absurd, told his aides when he heard of an invitation from Washington: "Book the flights, let's go, let's give them both barrels," adding quickly: "That's guns, not oil."
The offer to appear before the homeland security subcommittee on investigations, which is examining the alleged abuse of the UN's oil-for-food programme, followed an outcry from Mr Galloway that he had been found guilty of the allegations without having been able to defend himself.
Domnick e-mails "Gunmen free Iraqi governor" from I.E. Breaking News:
Al-Mahalawi was seized on Tuesday as he drove from the Syrian border town of Qaim to the provincial capital of Ramadi. The governor’s kidnappers told the family he would be released when US troops withdrew from Qaim.
[. . .]
Ahmed Hadi, an official at Iraq’s Ministry of Provincial Affairs, confirmed al-Mahalawi was released in the early hours of this morning, but declined to provide any details of how this happened. The governor's cousin said he was released without conditions.
Marci notes, from Aljazeera, "Violence continues as Rice visits Iraq:"
The bodies of 34 men who were shot execution-style in Iraq have been found in three locations in less than 24 hours as the US secretary of state made a surprise visit.
Sunday's discoveries came on a day when drive-by shootings and bombings killed at least eight Iraqis, including a senior Industry Ministry official and a top Shia cleric.
The attacks came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a heavily guarded surprise visit to Iraq to meet leaders of the new national government and urge patience for Iraqis weary of repeated bombings and insecurity.
From The Independent, Cedric e-mails to note Patrick Cockburn's "Iraq is a bloody no man's land. America has failed to win the war. But has it lost it?" From that article:
There is no doubt that the US has failed to win the war. Much of Iraq is a bloody no man's land. The army has not been able to secure the short highway to the airport, though it is the most important road in the country, linking the US civil headquarters in the Green Zone with its military HQ at Camp Victory.
Ironically, the extent of US failure to control Iraq is masked by the fact that it is too dangerous for the foreign media to venture out of central Baghdad. Some have retreated to the supposed safety of the Green Zone. Mr Bush can claim that no news is good news, though in fact the precise opposite is true.
Embedded journalism fosters false optimism. It means reporters are only present where American troops are active, though US forces seldom venture into much of Iraq. Embedded correspondents bravely covered the storming of Fallujah by US marines last November and rightly portrayed it as a US military success. But the outside world remained largely unaware, because no reporters were present with US forces, that at the same moment an insurgent offensive had captured most of Mosul, a city five times larger than Fallujah.
Why has the vastly expensive and heavily equipped US army failed militarily in Iraq? After the crescendo of violence over the past month there should be no doubts that the US has not quashed the insurgents whom for two years American military spokesmen have portrayed as a hunted remnant of Saddam Hussein's regime assisted by foreign fighters.
The failure was in part political. Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein polls showed that Iraqis were evenly divided on whether they had been liberated or occupied. Eighteen months later the great majority both of Sunni and Shia said they had been occupied, and they did not like it. Every time I visited a spot where an American soldier had been killed or a US vehicle destroyed there were crowds of young men and children screaming their delight. "I am a poor man but I am going home to cook a chicken to celebrate," said one man as he stood by the spot marked with the blood of an American soldier who had just been shot to death.
From London's Sunday Times, Pru e-mails to highlight Richard Beeston's "Insurgents greet Rice with car bombings, murders and chaos:"
THE surprise visit of Condoleezza Rice to Iraq was upstaged yesterday as insurgents mounted a wave of attacks against those loyal to the shaky United States-backed Government.
In the first visit by a member of the Bush Administration since Iraq formed its Government a fortnight ago, the US Secretary of State sought to give impetus to the country’s political transformation.
Yet even as she was shuttled across the country, insurgents stepped up their campaign of terror on a day in which at least a dozen people were killed and the bodies of 46 others were found. It began with a double suicide-bomb attack against Raad Rashid, the Governor of Diyala province. He escaped unhurt, but four policemen and two civilians were killed. The attack followed assassinations of two government officials, one who worked at the Industry Ministry, the other at the Foreign Ministry. A Shia cleric was also murdered by gunmen.
Then police found the handcuffed bodies of 13 men near the sprawling Sadr City slum in Baghdad. They had been shot dead and abandoned in a rubbish dump.
West of Baghdad, in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, the remains of ten Iraqi soldiers were found with their throats cut. South of the capital, in Iskandariya, the corpses of eleven more Iraqis, thought to be lorry drivers, were found in a field, four of them beheaded.
The killings pushed the death toll in Iraq to nearly 500 since the new Government was formed. Laith Kubba, the Government's spokesman, blamed foreign volunteers for the campaign, which included 70 car bombs, and accused "these criminals of trying to prove that the Government is incapable of protecting the people".
From the Sunday Herald (Scotland), Lori e-mails two stories. First, James Cusik's "Blair will stand down by mid 2007:"
Tony Blair has privately assured the Chancellor Gordon Brown that he will not serve a full third term in Downing Street as Prime Minister and will stand down within two years.
Details of the deal, contradicting the Prime Minister’s comments that he will serve out a full term, have been passed on by key allies of Brown to senior members of the government and leading figures in the trade union movement.
Brown is understood to have insisted that any incoming leader would need a minimum of 18 months to two years to establish strong leadership in the party and put in place the political authority needed for a new prime minister to win Labour a fourth consecutive term.
In return for a period of post-election calm and the withdrawal of any coup threat, Blair is understood to have accepted that he will go by mid-2007 at the latest.
The call for peace by the Chancellor follows growing unrest in the rebel ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party and among some trade union leaders that Blair has not kept his immediate post-election promise that he will "listen and learn".
Last week, the leader of the Amicus union, Derek Simpson, urged Blair not to cling to power.
Fearing a public coup would damage any future leader who followed Blair, Brown and key advisers have, in the words of one source, "called off the dogs".
Lori: The memo our (U.S.) press has ignored has obviously made waves in England.
Lori also notes Trevor Royle's "400 and counting: IRAQ’s Grim death toll for may:"
"WE don’t do body counts," was the infamous retort by US general Tommy Franks when he was asked about Iraqi civilian deaths. To date nobody knows the exact figure, but one thing is clear: it is being added to with a relentlessness which is enraging Iraqis and worrying coalition commanders.
Yesterday eight Iraqis -- including five civilians -- were shot dead by US forces in Mosul, four were killed by a suicide car bomb attack in central Baghdad, and in the west of the city a hand grenade attack left one policeman dead. In the middle of the day gunmen assassinated senior foreign ministry official Jassim al-Muhammadawy in Baghdad.
The US military also revealed yesterday that 100 insurgents and nine American troops have been killed in the past week in an operation near the Syrian border, bringing the total number of US troops killed since the conflict began to 1614. The brunt of the killings, however, has been felt by Iraqi civilians as the country is put on the rack by a sharp increase in the levels of attacks by insurgents.
In May alone, more than 400 Iraqis have been killed, and the recent bloodshed shows no sign of receding. One scene encapsulated the sense of frustration and anger felt by the people of Iraq as they helplessly watch the spate of violence. Following a car bomb explosion in Baghdad on Thursday, which left nine people dead, an Iraqi policeman vented his frustration on uncomprehending US soldiers who were doing their best to help the victims. He screamed at them: "This is all your doing. Why don't you leave us and go home?"
In an attempt to put the violence into context, US commanders claim that the number of attacks has dropped while their intensity has increased, but that prognosis is not borne out by the facts.
In February, the month after the elections were held, there was a downturn in the violence, with the average number of attacks running at 30 to 40 a day, but in the last fortnight the figure has doubled. In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, a suicide bomber crashed his car into a small market, detonating his bomb and leaving 33 dead with at least three times that number badly wounded. In Hawija, north of Baghdad, another bomber targeted a queue of men outside a police and army recruitment centre, killing 30 people . And it is not just people who are facing the wrath of the insurgents. In British-controlled Basra, bombs almost destroyed the country’s largest fertiliser factory and ruptured a gas pipeline .
For the coalition forces, the intensity of the recent attacks has brought into sharp focus the scale of the problem they are facing. Asked on Friday if he thought the insurgency could be contained, General Richard B Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Of Staff, offered a brutally forthright assessment. "This requires patience," he said. "I wouldn't look for results tomorrow. One thing we know about insurgencies is that they last from three or four years to nine years."
Via Watching America (a great resource), KeShawn notes "The Still Unsolved Stoffel Affair: How Is Known – but Not Who or Why" from DEBEKA-Net-Weekly:
Iraqi guerrillas calling themselves Rafidan -- the Political Committee of the Mujahideen Central Command -- have recently woken up and begun releasing a series of communiqués claiming to shed new light on the still unsolved deaths on December 8, 2004, of two Americans, Dale C. Stoffel, 43, whom they describe as "a CIA shadow manager in Iraq, close friend of George Bush," and his associate Joseph J. Wemple, also 43.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terrorism sources have been tracking these communiqués. Number 3 "reveals" the reason Stoffel was liquidated was because before and during the US-led invasion of Iraq, he was responsible on behalf of the United States and England of the looting of all of Iraq's weapons and arms. This military equipment is valued at 40 million dollars.
Rafidan promise further disclosures -- all allegedly taken from Stoffel's own computer, which was seized at the time of the murders. Our sources have pieced the episode together along with some of its ominous ramifications.
Stoffel and Wemple died when their BMW sport-utility vehicle was rammed head-on as they drove from a meeting with US military officials in Taji. Both men were shot several times and photos of their possessions were posted after a week on a radical Islamist Web site -- not Rafidan. According to Stoffel's obituary, two men wearing black hoods killed the two Americans in a hail of gunfire. All accounts show they were ambushed by killers who knew they were coming.
Stoffel's partner at CLI Robert Irey was quoted last December by the Monessen Valley Independent as reporting the that Stoffel and Wemple were driving from Taji to the Green Zone for a meeting and were ambushed ten minutes from their destination. Irey described Stoffel as "bigger than life" and an "experienced military Special Forces guy" who was always heavily armed and "knew what he was doing." Something must have lulled them into a false sense of security, he said and pointed at the Iraqi interpreter who fled the scene and is still missing.
On January 21, Washington Post cited a Pentagon spokesman as saying that the defense department is investigating the killing, with no further comment. But then the WP ran an intriguing box, which said: A Jan. 21 article incorrectly said that the defense department is investigating the killings of two US contractors in Iraq. The department is looking into a congressman's request to assist the victims' company in receiving payment for a contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.
The facts known about late Dale Stoffel do not always add up.
Lastly, Robbie e-mails to note an article from The Guardian about Star Wars' latest installment. We do have a number of members who have seen it and love it (and are excited about the upcoming chapter). But Robbie's highlight is being included here because it does have to do with Iraq (and the U.S. attitude to all countries, but most obvious with regards to Iraq -- my opinion). From Charlotte Higgins' "Final Star Wars bears message for America Lucas wins festival trophy - and hopes his epic will awaken US to democracy in peril:"
The republic is crumbling under attack from alien forces. Democracy is threatened as the leader plays on the people's paranoia. Amid the confusion it is suddenly unclear whether the state is in more danger from insurgents, or from the leader himself.
It sounds more like a Michael Moore polemic than a Star Wars movie. But George Lucas, speaking as his latest epic was given its world premiere at Cannes yesterday, confirmed that Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, could be read as a parable about American politics.
When he conceived his series of films in the 1970s, he says, he was thinking about Vietnam and Nixon, investigating "democracy, and how a senate could give itself over, could surrender itself to a dictator".
He found historical echoes down the ages. "I looked at ancient Rome, and how, having got rid of kings, the Senate ended up with Caesar's nephew as emperor ... how democracy turns itself into a dictatorship. I also looked at revolutionary France ... and Hitler.
"It tends to follow similar patterns. Threats from outside leading to the need for more control; democracy not being able to function properly because of internal squabbling."
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