Sunni militants burned homes in a mixed city northeast of Baghdad on Saturday and Sunday, forcing dozens of families to flee and raising the specter of a new intimidation tactic in Iraq's evolving civil war, Iraqi officials and witnesses said.
Militants also continued their campaign against Shiite pilgrims on Sunday, striking as the pilgrims returned home from the southern city of Karbala after observances there for the Arbaeen holiday over the weekend. The worst attack, a car bombing, killed at least 19 people in Baghdad as they were riding home from the south in a pickup truck.
That's from Damien Cave's "In New Tactic, Militants Burn Houses in Iraq" in this morning's New York Times. The article also notes this:
A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the German government was investigating reports of two Germans kidnapped in Iraq. She said a special group dedicated to threats against German citizens abroad was scrutinizing a videotape posted Saturday on the Internet, which showed a woman begging for help in German as a young man she identifies as her grown son looks on.
"I am here threatened by these people, they will kill my son in front of my eyes, then they will kill me if the German forces do not pull out of Afghanistan," she said, according to a news agency translation.
The authenticity of the videotape could not be independently verified.
And while it does note the Bully Boy, it includes nothing on the fact that he upped the escalation numbers (again) yesterday. Turning to England, Gareth notes Mark Townsend and Ned Temko's "The fresh agonies of our returning soldiers" (The Observer):
Jamie Cooper begged for his colostomy bag to be emptied. In all, he asked three nurses. One said she had no idea how to help. Another promised to pass on his request. His parents watched the plight of their wounded soldier. He may as well have begged for his dignity.
Cooper had served, and nearly died for, his country. Shrapnel had sliced through his stomach after a mortar attack in Basra last November. He remains the youngest British serviceman wounded in Iraq. Now the 18-year-old was struggling to have his faeces removed at the Birmingham hospital that treats the most seriously wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally his parents could take no more: they emptied the bag themselves.
'We went to the store room, helped ourselves to the necessary equipment and proceeded to clean out the colostomy bag - a task too onerous for staff,' Phillip and Caroline Cooper wrote in a letter last month to senior military leaders and NHS staff, which has been obtained by The Observer.
The Royal Green Jacket rifleman remains at Selly Oak Hospital, the sprawling NHS complex in south Birmingham where the most serious of Britain's returning wounded are treated. The lucky ones arrive at ward S4, where nurses attend to two six-bed bays in a 'military-managed' unit. Some are treated alongside civilians, removed from the camaraderie of wounded colleagues. Six months after the heated row over the suitability of placing wounded troops in mixed-civilian wards, Selly Oak is facing far more serious allegations. Letters obtained by The Observer have been called into question the treatment afforded to Britain's injured troops. The claims have provoked fresh consternation over how Britain treats its war-wounded and uncomfortable questions for a government embroiled in two bloody conflicts.
Weeks after the scandal surrounding shoddy conditions at America's flagship military hospital, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, the British government faces its own crisis over a hospital where hundreds of wounded service personnel have arrived since the Iraq invasion four years ago.
Staying on medical care, or the lack of, from Mary Engel's "Parents blame VA in fatal overdose" (Los Angeles Times):
Iraq war veteran Justin Bailey checked himself in to the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center just after Thanksgiving.
Among the first wave of Marines sent into battle, the young rifleman had been diagnosed since his return with posttraumatic stress disorder and a groin injury. Now, Bailey acknowledged to his family and a friend, he needed immediate treatment for his addiction to prescription and street drugs.
"We were so happy," said his stepmother, Mary Kaye Bailey, 41. "We were putting all of our faith into those doctors."
On Jan. 25, Justin Bailey got prescriptions filled for five medications, including a two-week supply of the potent painkiller methadone, according to his medical records. A day later, he was found dead of an apparent overdose in his room at a VA rehabilitation center on the hospital grounds. He was 27.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office is awaiting toxicology reports and has not ruled on the cause of death. Numerous other investigations are underway, including one by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Whatever the outcome, Bailey's family and friend Dimitris Rentzis hold the VA directly responsible. The young man's medical records, reviewed by The Times with his father's consent, contain multiple references to his history of abusing prescription drugs -- even a note about a warning from his concerned mother.
In view of that, his father wonders, why was Bailey allowed to administer his own medication?
"My son had made a decision to get help, and they didn't help him," said Gulf War veteran Tony Bailey, 47, of Las Vegas. "They gave him the bullet."
Also from the Los Angeles Times, we'll note Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel's "Fallback strategy for Iraq: Train locals, draw down forces:"
American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress.
Such a strategy, based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, is still in the early planning stages and would be adjusted to fit the outcome of the current surge in troop levels, according to military officials and Pentagon consultants who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing future plans. But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.
That's the Vietnam model. And it didn't work there either.
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