Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, September 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue,  General Ray Odierno appears before Congress to discuss Iraq, US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill sends out foul mouthed e-mails to the press, and more
Today in DC, General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, testified before the House Armed Services Committee.  The chair of that committee, US House Rep Ike Skelton, offered opening remarks that had something worthy of highlighting in every paragraph.  We'll focus on a paragraph near the end because it's one the immature don't want you to hear. 
Chair Ike Skelton: Finally, the US and Iraq will have to determine our future relationship.  Many view January 1, 2012, as a date when our relations will transform instantly to a normal bilateral relationship.  In some ways, that will likely be true.  But in other ways, it may not be.  Iraq will be incapable of providing fully for its external defense.  Iraq may well continue to need help developing some aspects of its security forces.  And we will continue to have interests in ensuring a stable Iraq, that doesn't threaten its neighbors or undermine other regional goals.
You probably won't hear about that portion of Chair Skelton's remarks -- despite the fact that the opening statement was widely distributed to the press.  It's more important to the press that sold you the illegal war to begin with that you be sold (repeatedly) on the (false) notion that the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) means the war ends and all US troops come home (or all US troops come home except the ones guarding the US Embassy in Iraq).  That's not what the SOFA means.  It's never been what it meant.  In some ways the press is trapped in their own lies.  Only the Washington Post got the SOFA right in November of 2008.  The Los Angeles Times came close, but it didn't grasp it as fully as the Post did.  The New York Times completely misunderstood the agreement (though Elizabeth Bumiller's reporting a month and two months after would attempt to correct the paper's misrepresentations) and McClatcy didn't have a damn clue.  Leila Fadel was over her head.  She was on a high as she'd semi-confess in "A reporter's farewell to Iraq," last August, too late to fix the immense damage she'd done in reports she filed and interviews she gave.  "For a few months," she'd confess, "I had hope that things might work out."  As many members of the Cult of St. Barack have discovered, hope doesn't pay the bills, hope doesn't put food on your table, hope doesn't put a roof over your head, and hope doesn't get the US out of Iraq.  McClatchy gave us Leila The Hopeful when what the country most needed was a functioning reporter.
Let's quote Ike Skelton one more time, "Many view January 1, 2012, as a date when our relations will transform instantly to a normal bilateral relationship.  In some ways, that will likely be true.  But in other ways, it may not be.  Iraq will be incapable of providing fully for its external defense." When you hear a liar telling you the SOFA means the war ends and the US comes home at the end of 2011, you need to ask, "Gee, then what did Ike Skelton mean?"  In fairness to the Real Press, the bulk of the loudest and worst liars on the SOFA were beggars in Panhandle Media -- at The Nation, at Pacifica, etc.  Some are such liars and/or fools, they forget their own lies.  Earlier this month, Ava and I wrote "TV: The Suckers" which included, "Now what the treaty (Status Of Forces Agreement) does is what it was meant to, ease heat in the US over the illegal war. It's done that. It's led to so many fools and liars proclaiming the Iraq War over or almost over: Tom Hayden, CODESTINK, Raed Jarrar, throw a dart at the fringe radical and you'll draw blood from a fool swearing the Iraq War is over or about to be." 
This led to Raed Jarrar insisting that we had misunderstood him.  No, we hadn't.  If you can't keep track of your lies, that's probably the first sign that you have a problem.  In "Raed Jarrar tries to 'correct' Ava and C.I. (Dona)," Dona pointed out that even as she wrote, you could go to Raed's website and see X number of days to go until the Iraq War ended ("839" in Dona's screen snap).  That's from Raed's site.  He pimped the lie over and over that the SOFA meant the Iraq War ended and he added that tacky, lying counter to his website which provided a visualization of the lie.  We knew what we were talking about, Ava and I.  We always knew what the SOFA did and did not do.  Raed?  We'll be kind and just say he must be confused.
Today General Ray Odierno read word for word over the lengthy prepared statement that he and the White House wrote (the press may not tell you about White House involvement -- but first clue for those who can't grasp reality: If he wrote it, he wouldn't have stumbled over so many words while reading it).  The thing to note from it is that Odierno lists Iraqi Security Forces of being "approximately 663,000 strong" with "245,000 soldiers and over 407,000 police."  Otherwise, not much to note depite the fact that he was twenty-four seconds shy of 20 minutes when he finally finished reading his prepared remarks.
Odierno noted in reply to a question by Skelton that he has "the flexibility to speed up or slow down" the draw-down based on what he sees.  Ranking Member Howard McKeon asked Odierno to walk through the election process in Iraq, noting that it is different than what those in the United States might be used to.
General Ray Odierno: I'll wal -- Congressman, I'll walk you through in general terms.  First, the el - by the [Iraqi] Constitution, the election is supposed to occur no later than the 31st of January. Right now, it's scheduled for the 16th of January. Again, pending the passing of the election law. Once the election is completed, they take 45 days to certify the results of the election. And so what happens is we'll have hundreds of international observers -- maybe thousands, there's going to be quite a few international observers -- as well as the Iraqi High Electoral Commission will certify the results, they will take all complaints and then they will deem the elections to be credible, legitimate or not.  That takes forty-five days.  Once that happens, you then have thirty days to begin the formation of seating the Council of Representatives. You then have another thirty days to then select the leadership, the presidency, and then you have another time period to select the prime minister and then the Speaker [of Parliament]. So within that time period, we expect that it will take from January to June or so, maybe July, to seat the new government.  In 2005, following the elections, the government -- the elections were in December and the government was seated in May of 2005 [C.I. note, he means May of 2006]. This is the Parliamentary system of government and it just takes time for them to do this.  So it's -- there is timelines on it, they will follow those timelines strictly, but it will take time to seat that government.
US House Rep. Howard McKeon: Based on that timeline then, you're comfortable keeping combat troops in -- in the country until August and that will be sufficient and you're -- you're --
General Ray Odierno: I do.
US House Rep. Howard McKeon: -- comfortable with being able to pull them out securely at that time?
General Ray Odierno: I do, I do.  You know I look at the first sixty days or so following the election as maybe the most critical time if we think there may be some form of violence following the election as the results are certified.  Our experience in the past have been if -- within the sixty days, that's when you'd see some level of violence.  So that allows us, I think, to make sure  that we believe this will be a peaceful transition of power that we expect. But that will allow us to ensure this peaceful transition of power and then that allows us to draw-down as they seat the government.
US House Rep Michael Conaway would also follow up on the elections issue.  He wondered what other risks might prevent elections from being held on time.  "As I was going to say," General Ray Odierno began, "if we get the election law passed, I believe, unless there's some unforseen event that would happen -- and I have trouble getting my arms around what that might be, I really believe the elections will occur on time. Unless there's something that caused a large amount of sectarian violence to break out between now and the elections.  But I just don't see it because the Iraqi people don't want to go there.  They are tired of that and they want to move forward."  The issue of the Kirkuk was discussed.
US House Rep Loretta Sanchez: General and Mr. Secretary, I'd like both of you to answer this question. General, at the end of July, you and Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates visited with Kurdish leaders in Irbil and you were widely quoted saying that the Arab-Kurd tensions over disputed internal boundaries and natural petroleum policy were the biggest problem facing Iraq.  In fact, you said, "Arab-Kurd tensions are the number one driver of insecurity."  And yet this morning when you began and you talked about the drivers you didn't mention this. So my questions are: do you still believe that the number one driver is insecurity -- or do you still think it's up there -- and what measures have been taken to manage and to reduce the tensions that are going on?  And, of course, Article 140 of the Constitution of Iraq provides for a phased process of normalization, census and referendum to determine the final boundaries of the Kurdish Region within a democratic process. But some have said to me that they think the US has to be more active  in getting this 140 Article issue done, this process done.  In fact, when I asked Secretary Gates in front of this committee, he said that, "The US fully supports Article 140."  And so my question is: How involved are we in that?  What are we doing to push these sides to get to a resolution under the Constitution? And if, in fact, we're going to have a responsible withdrawal, don't you think that getting that Article 140 process done is almost a pre-condition for us to be able to remove troops and make sure that these ethnic issues are taken care of?  And, um, why is 140 stalled?  And what are we doing to-to move it in the right direction?
General Ray Odierno: Thank you, Congresswoman.  I still believe that Arab-Kurd tension is the number one driver of instability inside of Iraq.  I mentioned it.  I might not have said it was number one.  But I did mention it.  Uh-uh and this is long standing problems over land and resources and-and the distribution of those in these key areas that have been going on for hundreds of years  in-inside of Iraq between the Kurds and the Arab population.  The Article 140 process back in December '07 -- actually did not get finished by December of '07 which was the date on the original Iraqi Constitution -- was supposed to be finished. And when that happened what happened is we formed a UN -- uh -- the UN took over trying to renegotiate and get the sides together.  So we have a UN commission now that is working very hard between the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to try to uh come to -- come to some agreement with these very difficult issues regarding disputed areas in terms of boundaries as well as a sharing of hydrocarbons and resources. So what we're doing -- what we're doing is we are fully in support of that effort.  We support the UN, we engage with both the government of Iraq and the KRG on these issues to make sure they continue to participate in this -- in this process. And this process will ultimately follow, hopefully, and cause the implementation of the 140 -- Article 140 and the resolution of these issues.  In addition, we are attempting to work with the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to reduce tensions in the areas.  Over the last year or so, on several cases, it's the US forces who have helped to reduce tensions between these groups.  We now have them in discussion and they are trying to come up with some sort of an architecture -- security architecture -- that would reduce tensions between the Arabs and Kurds. So we'll be at such level that everybody understands that-that they will solve this problem through the political processes of the UN.  And this is something that Iraq has to solve. This is an Iraq problem that the Iraqis have to solve.  We have to be engaged at all levels and we will continue to be engaged at all levels.  
Yes, Odierno does grasp the issue and the tensions.  No, US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill doesn't.  (Loretta Sanchez grasps the issue very well, just FYI.)  The response from Odierno above was in marked difference from the responses on the issue Chris Hill gave Congress earlier this month.  We'll come back to Chris Hill later in the snapshot.
US House Rep Susan Davis: I wanted to ask you about the Wall St. Journal reported yesterday that the Iraqis are having difficulty with their budget crunch [see Gina Chon's "Iraq Is Struggling to buy Equipment"] and oil prices decreasing in purchasing equipment that they had already requested from the US government. And there are a number of issued combined with that. How difficult and how high a priority is it for us to get this straight?  And are their policies that we should in fact be looking at right now that would allow them to purchase more of those in advance?
General Ray Odierno: We are -- I think it's very important.  We've been working this for quite some time.  First the uh Iraqi budget uh, you know, I know because of the price of oil their budget has decreased quite significantly.  They're-they're MO -- they're combined MOD [Ministry of Defense] budget's about $10 billion a year. About 85% of that is fixed, non-discretionary and it has to do mainly with salaries and other things. So that leaves them a very small piece left to invest in modernization.  They have already purchased several things such as patrol boats, uh, and many other army and some airforce equipment that they have to still pay.  So almost all of their even discretionary income is-is-is taken up.  So what I want to be able to do is assist them in some small ways -- by using stay-behind equipment.  Potentially leaving for them  As well as improving their ability not to have to pay all costs upfront for foreign military sales, where they can spread it over a longer time period  --
US House Rep Susan Davis: As I understand it, they don't meet a number of the criteria --
General Ray Odierno: That's --
US House Rep Susan Davis: -- that we have.
General Ray Odierno: That's exactly right.  They have to meet -- the IMF bank has to certify them.  And, of course, they're trying to get through that certification by having enough reserves so that they get certified.  So it's a very complex problem and we have things competing against each other. So we're trying to come up with many different ways to help them to get them the equipment we think is necessary to have a foundational capability by 2011.  And part of that might be is we might have to -- you know -- what we believe is -- there's about -- in Fiscal Year '10 and '11, we think we need -- we have an acquirement of about 3.5 billion dollars that we need to help them in order to finish getting the foundational capacity that they need in order to have -- to be able to have security by 2011.  And then we'll have to continue some sort of an FMF [Foreign Military Financing] program through the State Dept after 2011.  And if we're able to do that, that will allow them to slowly build up and have the security capability necessary to protect themselves.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Thank you.  I appreciate that.  One of the things that must be frustrating is that violence does continue to flare from time to time and I notice that one of the high ranking Iraqi army generals was recently killed as well.  I guess that was reported yesterday.  What effect does that have in terms of the government? The army?  Do you -- or is that -- have we gotten so numb to that now in a sense that it doesn't have the kind of impact --
General Ray Odierno: I think -- I think for the Iraqis -- First of all, that was a Brigade Commander that was killed yesterday up in Mosul. It has a -- you know, it does have an impact. Uh, the Iraqi security forces -- like our forces -- understand what their duty is and what their mission is. And they are very dedicated to providing security to their people and I have seen many acts of bravery by leaders -- Iraqi leaders -- and their soldiers.  And-and-and in a lot of ways, they're no different from our soldiers when it comes to that. So they see that as their mission and they're trying to root out these last remnants of al Qaeda and insurgents and some of these difficult areas.  The sad part, Congresswoman, is we continue to see these attacks against innocent civilians absolutely mean nothing to the outcome and all it does is kill innocent people. And it's frustration to us and it's frustrating to the Iraqis. And that's what we're trying to stop inside of Iraq now, these-these-these last bombings that occur, although much less frequently than they used to --  they still occur and kill many innocent people.  And those are -- those are the kind of incidents we're trying to stop.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Are our civilians able to move freely, go down, have a cup of tea, at all to engage in an informal fashion yet at this point?
General Ray Odierno: They can but they can't.  I would -- they can in order to meet with Iraqi officials.  I-I would say you can but it's still a little bit difficult to move freely because they're targets -- is part of the problem.
On the above exchange, Odierno's belief in transitioning equipment over to Iraqis?  Great.  No point in bringing all of it back when most brought back will be immediately phased out as out-dated.  Make a gift to the Iraqis, fine.  But this idea that the Iraqis are going to get a loan for weaponry and it's okay because the payments won't be immediate but will be spread out?
I knew Cindy Crawford was working for Rooms To Go, but I had no idea Ray Odierno was. Regardless of whether payments are "spread out" or not, payments are due.  The bill still has to be paid.  Iraq is currently trying to break their finanical obligation to Kuwait.  That's one.  Two, Iraq can't afford to make the purchases now. What makes Odierno believe that they will be able to afford it in the future?  Does he know something about the oil market?  No, I don't think he does.  But the point is, if you can't afford it today, don't buy on credit thinking you'll win the lottery and be able to afford it some day in the future.  The budget is the budget.  Revenues are what they are.  You don't loan to people who can't afford to pay back a loan.  The next step would be to consider whether the US should make a gift of it?  ("It" being new weapons, not the equipment Odierno is speaking of leaving over there.)  That goes to the US economy as does a loan.  A gift would at least not require all the faux outrage needed for a loan (when Iraq doesn't pay back the loan, US officials take to the TV monitors to wonder why, why, why!).  But this is billions.  Odierno, who is not an economist or even an accountant, is stating it would be $3.5 billion.  Which means it would most likely be twice that amount.  Why does the US need to fork over that money?
That's the question that did not get asked.
Why does Iraq need $3.5 billion it doesn't have in order to 'save' the country?  Who's the big threat there?  They've got bombings?  Yeah, they've had them throughout this illegal war.  So?  Does someone think Iran's going to come stomping in?  Syria?  What's the point of all this equipment because what it looks like -- and the reason the House didn't touch it -- is that Nouri's illegitimate and unpopular government needs the money not to defend itself from outside forces but to hold down their own people.  And that's the observation then US Senator Joe Biden was making in April of 2008.  And he and Russ Feingold were insisting this was exactly the position the US did not want to be in -- arming one side against the other.  So before the US government even explores how to fund or not to fun the request, what the Congress needs to do is nail down why anything is needed?  Iraq has failed to establish need.  Odierno couldn't do it today before Congress.  No debate on whether to gift or loan needs to take place until the need for the equpiment is established.
Ideally, we'll return to today's hearing later in the week (hopefully tomorrow -- Kat's offering observations about Odierno's testimony at her site tonight) and we can grab some other exchanges.  US House Rep Mike Coffman, for example, asked some solid questions -- which Odierno answered specifically -- about the ethnic make up of the army and police.  But let's grab Chris Hill.  Whether you agreed with Odierno's conclusions or not, he did have his facts down.  So different from Chris Hill's rude and unprepared testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Relations Committees earlier this month.   This week, Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) finally stumbles upon the reality re: Chris Hill. Sort of. Chris Hill was unfit for the post -- and has a personnel record which demonstrates that. He lacked the qualifications. He had no experience in the region. He has a long (documented) history of ignoring supervisors. And the rumors about his manic depressive state was already legendary long before he landed in Iraq. (And his MD may be why, despite promising Senator John Kerry that he would be on the next plane to Iraq as soon as he was confirmed, he waited several days before departing for Iraq.) In his hearings, he demonstrated no knowledge of the issues despite several weeks of prepping with handlers. He has no concept of Kirkuk, for example. At the hearings on his confirmation, his responses on Kirkuk were laughable.  They were barely better at the start of this month.  Contrast them with Odierno's answers and you really grasp what a problem Hill has and, yes, what a problem Hill is. 
Let's make the point really clear: The answer for Iraq is not military, it's political.
You've heard that how many damn times from how many damn people?  So why is that Odierno -- a military general -- is doing more work currently in Iraq than the 'laid back' Chris Hill.  Hill's confirmation was a mistake and the smartest thing the administration could do would be to ask for his resignation.  Republicans opposed him.  They questioned him hard and they knew -- as one on the Foreign Relations Committee told me -- that Hill was the fall guy (by which they take out Obama on the Iraq issue) if anything goes wrong.  They knew it.  You go back and look at their responses and you see they were all echoing one another.  They were raising issues of trust and qualifications.  And if the withdrawal happens and if it happens before the 2012 elections and if (a ton of ifs) it's bloody and messy, Chris Hill becomes one of the biggest talking points of the 2012 election. 
He's unfit for the job and he's already repeatedly demonstrated he's not up for it. And his problems with Odierno even caused questions in today's hearings.
US House Rep Joe Courtney: How is your relationship with the ambassador, how often do you interact?  I mean and what efforts are still being made by us to keep moving forward on the political end?

General Ray Odierno: Thank you so much for the question.  First, I interact every single day uh, I, uh -- We probably meet personally three or four times a week.  I have an office in the Embassy that I'm in.  But I also have about 300 people the I'm with in MNF in I [Multi-National Force in Iraq] that are actually in the Embassy, that are in support of economic and training of other agencies, planning, that are there every single day working with the Embassy. So we're completely integrated at every level, we continue to be completely integrated.
At which point he began discussing (again) a report that is scheduled to be available in January.  It will outline what US military tasks (current tasks in Iraq) are being passed on to the US Embassy in Iraq and which are being passed on to the central 'government' in Baghdad.  Odierno squirmed throughout his response until he got to make a sport's joke.  He did not squirm throughout the hearing.  He did move around at many times (and his voice cut in and out as he moved his head away from the microphone).  He jotted notes and did many other things.  But he obviously and repeatedly squirmed when Hill was raised.
Thomas E. Ricks noted earlier in the week:

What I am hearing is that Odierno is profoundly frustrated with Hill, who despite knowing almost nothing about Iraq has decided after a short time there that it is time to stand back and stop influencing the behavior of Iraqi officials on a daily basis. In addition, I am told, the ambassador believes the war is an Iraqi problem, not something that really concerns Americans anymore, despite the presence of 125,000 American soldiers. On the other hand, the diplomats respond, the military guys believe they have good relationships with Iraqi officials, but, the dips add, how would the soldiers really know? Because unlike Hill's posse, they don't speak Arabic. Which brings to mind my favorite saying of Warren Buffett, that if you've been playing poker for half an hour and you don't know who the patsy at the table is, you're the patsy.

As I've noted before, Ava and I both lobbied for women (not one women -- for a number of women) to be in that position.  When Hill became the choice, efforts to give him a chance were repeatedly defeated by Hill's own statements and presentation.  Maybe Ricks should have focused on the lack of qualifications back during the hearings.
I believe Thomas E. Ricks is among those saying a political solution is needed and not a military one.  Well why the hell didn't he think the position of US Ambassador mattered?  Why the hell did he wait until months after the confirmation to suddenly be bothered by Hill's lack of qualifications?  Hill's a problem, no question.  But he was a problem back when he was confirmed.  Thomas E. Ricks is late to the party and we've already put away all the food. Yesterday, Ricks again explored Hill and noted responses to his earlier post:
This is one that was posted by Joel Wit, a longtime Korea expert who, according to his bio, "served as senior advisor to Ambassador Robert L. Galluci from 1993-1995, where he developed strategies to help resolve the crisis over North Korea's weapons program, and as Coordinator for the U.S.-North Korea's weapons program and as Coordinator for the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework from 1995-1999, where he was the official in charge of implementation":
["]As someone who follows Iraq only as closely as any foreign-policy generalist but who specializes in North Korea, I can tell you none of us would be surprised by the problems between Chris Hill and the U.S. military in that country. When he worked on North Korea issues at the end of the Bush administration, Hill was not willing to listen to anyone who knew the issues and had his own little team of groupies who worshipped the ground he walked on (or at least pretended to). While there are a number of reasons why we are in trouble with the North today, not the least of which is the North Koreans themselves, Hill wouldn't listen to experts or anyone else about how to deal with a country that he knew nothing about. Sounds like he is repeating his performance in Iraq. Lets hope the consequences arent as bad.["]
A word on the brackets around Joel Wit's quote, the snapshot is reposted at other community sites.  In the reposting, Wit's quote will be lost without those brackets, it will all run together and no one will know which part was Ricks and which part was Joel Wit.
Today Ricks writes that most "with first-hand knowledge" are telling him there's a problem in the relationship between Hill and Odierno (gee, did one tell you about Odierno's red-faced -- but not screaming -- response to Hill's decision to let the oil draft law wait until after January elections which means until after April of 2009?  Strong words were exchanged over that).  But the best part of Ricks' post is this, "I've also gotten several e-missives from Hill himself, and seen some he launched to others. He certainly does like the word 'bulls**t.' His problem is that his rep with the diplomatic press corps is that the more accurate the story about him, the more he tends to use it." I've edited the word.  Ricks doesn't (he's not work safe) and it's the word Hill uses.  It's among the words Hill uses in e-mails.  Most people have seen that repeatedly.  Grasp this is not someone who should be working in diplomacy.  Grasp that Ricks -- late to the story but breaking it for many -- is someone Hill needed to win over and "bulls**t bulls**t" over and over doesn't endear you to anyone.  (I've noted before, my mouth is more foul than anyone.  However, I'm not a diplomat and I don't work for the State Dept. There is a way you present yourself in certain positions and Hill's little outbursts to Ricks alone would indicate a problem.)  Here's a thought, since the administration doesn't care for women, offer Joe Wilson the post.  The former US Ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson (not the Congress member).  Joe Wilson knows how and when to stand up and he knows how and when to avoid petty nonesense.  He's a diplomat in every sense of the word.  Chris Hill needs to go.  If he doesn't, don't be surprised if the little nothing becomes one of the issues the 2012 election turns on.  For The New Republic, Nicolaus Mills and Michael Walzer (link goes to NPR repost) explore the process of withdrawal.  Notice that they're also talking about political issues.  Too bad the US doesn't have a functional ambassador to Iraq.
We will try to come back to today's hearing later in the week and note several including US House Rep Carol Shea-Porter.  Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing that killed 1 man and left his wife wounded, a Baghdad ticky bombing that killed 1 person and left eight others injured. Reuters drops back to yesterday to note a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five people and another Baghdad roadside bombing which also wounded five poeple -- three of whom were police officers.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attack on a Baghdad military checkpoint that resulted in 3 Iraqi soldiers killed with another left wounded.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Basra, "a woman who apparently died of stab wounds".  Reuters drops back to yesterday in order to note a woman's corpse was discovered outisde Mosul (shot to death).
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports on bonding exercises and experiences between US service members and Iraqi ones which include growing mustaches -- apparently only the males.  For the record, I'm not making fun of women in the US military, I am noting that some stories might need to note that some bonding naturally excludes some members of the military.  And maybe if that didn't happen so often, Iraqi women wouldn't be treated so poorly?  And isn't it cute how we've stopped hearing of the Daughters Of Iraq?  Isn't that interesting?  When the next female bomber comes along, remember the hand wringing only takes place when there's a camera around to record it.
Delaware's 261st Signal brigade is back from Iraq.  Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reports that Vice President Joe Biden addressed them today in a welcome hom speech -- the brigade includes Joe's son Beau. Meanwhile the Winona Daily News carries an announcement regarding Iraq War veteran JR Martinez who will be speaking on "The American Dream: Inspiring Others Through His Amazing Story of Resilience, Perseverance and Optimism" at Winona State University Monay night at 7:00 pm (East Hall, Kryzsko Commons) and again Tuesday morning at Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical's Auditorium and Tuesday at 4:00 pm at WSU-Rochester's Memorial Hall. He will be sharing his experiences including a landmine explosion that left him wounded, badly burned and required 32 surgeries. The presentation is also part of Hispanic Heritage Month.
In other news, read Ruth's amazing "Eilene Zimmerman Is No Feminist" if you haven't already.