Private armies have a sinister reputation in Europe

Europeans remember Italy's fascist Blackshirts and, most recently, Serb neo-fascist gangs like Arkan's Tigers and the White Eagles who committed some of the worst atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo. Memories still linger of Germany's post First World War army veterans, the Stahlhelm, and Nazi Brownshirts, who battled Communist street toughs in Munich and Berlin.

The rise of powerful mercenary armies within the United States, like Blackwater, and their use in Iraq and Afghanistan, is an entirely new, deeply disturbing development.

There are 180,000 to 200,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries in Iraq -- or "private contractors" as Washington and the U.S. media delicately call them. At least half are armed fighters, the rest support personnel and technicians. Without them, the U.S. and Britain could not maintain their occupation of Iraq.

These private enterprise fighters, like the Renaissance's Italian condotierri, German landsknecht, and Swiss pikemen, are lawless, answering to no authority but their employers. Democrats in the U.S. Congress are rightly demanding these trigger-happy Rambos to be at least brought under American military law.

Vice-President Dick Cheney took Vietnam's lesson to heart by championing use of mercenaries for nasty foreign wars. But democracies should have no business unleashing armies of hired gunmen on the world. Worse, these private armies hardwired to the Republican Party's far right are a grave and intolerable danger to the American republic. Congress should outlaw them absolutely. The great Roman Republic held that mandatory military service by all citizens was the basis of democracy, while professional armies were a grave menace.

How ironic that colonial America, which rose up in arms in response to the British crown's use of brutal German mercenaries, is resorting to the same tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Europe wants no more of private armies. Americans have yet to learn this painful lesson.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Edmonton Sun]


Money for weapons, but not for Iraqi Aid

The US is ready to sell Iraq up to $2.3bn of weapons to help the Iraqi army grow and take over operations currently run by US and allied forces, the Pentagon has said.

"This expansion will enable Iraq to equip new forces to assume the missions currently accomplished by US and coalition forces and to sustain themselves in their efforts to bring stability to the country," the DSCA said in a statement.
The agency did not list any contractors alongside the sale.
It said the Iraqi government had requested Humvees and rifles, as well as a wide array of trucks and other vehicles, small arms, munitions, explosives and communications equipment.

[Source: Agencies]


Lawmaker says Rice interfered with Iraq inquiry

A leading Democratic lawmaker accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of interfering in congressional inquiries into corruption in Iraq's government and the activities of U.S. security firm Blackwater.

"You are wrong to interfere with the committee's inquiry," Waxman said in a letter to Rice. "The State Department's position on this matter is ludicrous," added Waxman, a vocal opponent of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.

Waxman said security contractor Blackwater, which was involved in an incident in which Iraqi civilians were killed last week, said they could not hand over documents relevant to an investigation without State Department approval.

Blackwater provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and has a contract with the State Department. The State Department is investigating the incident along with the Iraqis.

"[The State Department] directs Blackwater USA not to disclose any information concerning the contract without DOS (Department of State) preauthorization in writing."

Blackwater also urged the committee not to ask questions at the hearing that could reveal sensitive information "that could be utilized by our country's implacable enemies in Iraq." Such information included the size of their security staff in Baghdad, weaponry and the operation of convoys.

[Excerpt of a Reuters article by Sue Pleming]


2008 to be the most expensive year of the Iraq War

The White House will ask Congress next week to approve another massive spending measure for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan totaling nearly 200 billion dollars, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website. Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, the newspaper said if President George W. Bush's spending request is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war.

Spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would then be about 195 billion in fiscal 2008, an increase of around 12 percent from the 173 billion dollars spent this year.

In 2004, the two conflicts together cost 94 billion dollars; in 2005, they cost 108 billion; in 2006, 122 billion, the paper said.

When costs of CIA operations and embassy expenses are added, the war in Iraq currently costs taxpayers about 12 billion dollars a month, said Winslow Wheeler, a former Republican congressional budget aide who is a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "It all depends on what happens in Iraq, but thus far it has continued to get bloodier and more expensive."



Hessians and Blackwater

Most Americans have forgotten the Hessians, the mercenaries the British hired to fight against us in the Revolutionary War. These Hessians were mercenaries, fighting for money, not for any moral cause.

The Blackwater "security" people are mercenaries who come from all over the world, South Africa, the Congo, Chile, Nicaragua and other places. Though Blackwater is an "American firm," its mercenaries are not all Americans, though some are.

They, like the Hessians, are there for money, to do the bidding of those who wish to occupy a land against the will of the natives of that land. We label these Iraqis "terrorists" for fighting for their families, their homes and their religion—and we label Blackwater "security forces"! Ah, what euphemisms, wrongful labeling and upside down semantics can do for you.

According to the AP and Reuters wire services, the mercenaries of Blackwater outnumber our American troops in Iraq. Remember also, that we, as taxpayers are paying for these mercenaries to work for the benefit of Halliburton, Bechtel and other American companies. Blackwater was not invited in by American taxpayers, nor by our Congress. Not only that, but they have caused so much mischief, that according to some veterans, there have been firefights between U.S. troops and Blackwater mercenaries. Blackwater has no rules of engagement and no desire or regulation to follow Geneva Conventions—and in most cases that have been reported, they have not.

Why is Blackwater protecting our State Department personnel when we have American troops that could do the job as well if not better? Is it possible Blackwater is there to kill people, not to protect our personnel? How many Americans realize we've helped create a Hessian monster in Iraq that has killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, as was exemplified last week when civilians were killed needlessly because some macho Blackwater killers opened fire on civilians because they were to close to a convoy they were "protecting"!

[Excerpt of an article by Dr. Sam Hamod, ICH]


So what are 180,000 mercenaries doing in Iraq?

The United States has assembled an imposing industrial army (more than 180,000) in Iraq, larger than its uniformed fighting force (163,100).

This clearly has its dangers, as last weekend's incident with Blackwater USA employees killing 20 Iraqi civilians.

A measure proposed by Rep. David Price, D-N.C., would require all government contractors to be covered by federal criminal codes, a shortcoming revealed by the conflict in Iraq.

"One suspects that contractors are being used to mask the true extent of our involvement in Iraq," Price said in an interview. "How else are you going to interpret it when the number of contractors exceeds the number of troops?"

[Source: Associated Press]


Apathy is our greatest enemy

What does it take us to shock us into action these days? Some days back, an Opinion Business Research (ORB) survey of Iraqi families indicates as many as 1.2 million Iraqi civilians may have died as a result of the war.

That's five times more than the death toll wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's also the equivalent of killing every man, woman and child in, say, Amsterdam.

And just why were those people's lives sacrificed again? Former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a committed Republican who served four American presidents, says it was all about oil, which most of us who were against the war from day one knew all along. Yet when we mentioned the "O" word, we were invariably targeted as crazed conspiracy theorists.

If Greenspan is right - and he probably is - then why aren't we outraged? Why aren't we spilling out onto the streets in protest? Are we prepared to accept the death of 1.2 million innocent individuals just so we can fill our tanks with cheap fuel?

What if 1.2 million Americans or 1.2 million Britons had been sacrificed for the same goal? Would they have been acceptable collateral damage?

[Excerpt of an article by Linda S. Heard, Gulf News]


The $3,850 per second Iraqi war

During an eight-hour working day, U.S. tax dollars spent in the battle zones of Iraq total $112 million.

That translates into $333 million a day, $14 million an hour, $231,000 a minute and $3,850 a second.

It dwarfs what the United States is spending on efforts to alleviate the huge humanitarian crisis that unfolded after the 2003 invasion.

Opponents of the war have begun to focus on its high cost and stress what could be done with the dollars spent in Iraq -- improving American education and healthcare and fixing aging U.S. infrastructure.

The comparisons almost invariably center on things that could be done or bought in the United States for the benefit of Americans. Iraqis do not figure prominently in these analyses and the humanitarian disaster now unfolding is not much of a topic of discussion among Washington policy makers.

That, at times, dismays international aid officials who deal with the terrified multitudes who have fled waves of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion. Around 2 million went to neighboring countries, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Egypt, by the count of international relief organizations. Another 2.2 million fled from their homes and sought refuge elsewhere in Iraq.

Improving conditions for these refugees would be cheap, measured against the cost of the war, but appeals for increased funds have fallen on deaf ears.

Of the $85 million appeal by the IOM, made in June -- by September, the organization had received $6 million. The shortfall, $79 million, would be covered by less than six hours of war spending.

[Excerpt of a Reuters article by Bernd Debusmann]


None Dare Call It Genocide

How comfy we are all in the United States, as we engage in living-room debates about the US occupation of Iraq, whether "we" are bringing them freedom and whether their freedom is really worth the sacrifice of so many of our men and women.

But there's one thing Americans don't talk about: -- the lives of Iraqis, or, rather, the deaths of Iraqis. We weep for the plight of those suffering from hunger and disease, volunteer in efforts to bring plumbing to Ecuador, mosquito nets to Rwanda, clean water to Malawi, human rights to Togo, and medicine to Bangladesh.

But when "we" cause the calamity, suddenly there is silence. There is something odd, suspicious, even disloyal about a person who would harp on the deaths of Iraqis since the US invasion in 2003. Maybe a person who would weep for Iraq is really a terrorist sympathizer.

If you have ever lost a family member, you know that life is never the same again. It causes every manner of religious, social, and marital trauma. It's bad enough to lose a family member to some disease. But to a cold-blooded killing or a car bomb or an airplane bomb? That instills a sense of fury and motivation to retribution.

So we are speaking of some 1.2 million people who have been killed in this way, and that does not count the numbers that were killed during the invasion itself for the crime of having attempted to oppose invading foreign troops, or the 500,000 children and old people killed by the US-UN anti-civilian sanctions in the 10 previous years.

The US has unleashed bloodshed in Iraq that is rarely known even in countries we think of as violent and torn by civil strife.

[Excerpt of an article by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama]


Iraq Death Toll Rivals Rwanda Genocide, Cambodian Killing Fields

According to a new study, 1.2 million Iraqis have met violent deaths since the 2003 invasion, the highest estimate of war-related fatalities yet.

These numbers suggest that the invasion and occupation of Iraq rivals the great crimes of the last century -- the human toll exceeds the 800,000 to 900,000 believed killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and is approaching the number (1.7 million) who died in Cambodia's infamous "Killing Fields" during the Khmer Rouge era of the 1970s.

The study was done by the British polling firm ORB, which conducted face-to-face interviews with a sample of over 1,700 Iraqi adults in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Two provinces -- al-Anbar and Karbala -- were too dangerous to canvas, and officials in a third, Irbil, didn't give the researchers a permit to do their work. The study's margin of error was plus-minus 2.4 percent.

More than one in five respondents said that at least one person in their home had been murdered since March of 2003. One in three Iraqis also said that at least some neighbors "actually living on [their] street" had fled the carnage, with around half of those having left the country. In Baghdad, almost half of those interviewed reported at least one violent death in their household.

Here's the troubling thing, and one reason why opposition to the war isn't even more intense than it is: Americans were asked in an AP poll conducted earlier this year how many Iraqi civilians they thought had been killed as a result of the invasion and occupation, and the median answer they gave was 9,890.

[Excerpt of an article by Joshua Holland, AlterNet]


Blackwater security firm banned from Iraq

Iraq's Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead. In addition to the fatalities, 14 people were wounded, most of them civilians.

The U.S. State Department said it plans to investigate what it calls a "terrible incident."

"We saw a convoy of SUVs passing in the street nearby," Hussein Abdul-Abbas, owner of a mobile phone store in the area, told the AP. "One minute later, we heard the sound of a bomb explosion followed by gunfire that lasted for 20 minutes between gunmen and the convoy people who were foreigners and dressed in civilian clothes. Everybody in the street started to flee immediately."

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, said, "We have revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq. The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday's killing will be referred to Iraqi justice."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday to offer "her personal and the U.S. administration's regrets" for the shootings.

Sunday's incident highlighted concerns in the U.S. Congress about a subject that one lawmaker, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, has called "one of the biggest gray areas of the entire war effort" -- the legal status of private security firms in Iraq.


What if Iraq took place in America

Iraq humanitarian nightmare

President Bush, in his televised address to the nation, warned that a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq could cause a "humanitarian nightmare."A trusted aide should take the president aside and quietly inform him that this nightmare arrived a good while ago.

When the U.S. launched its "shock and awe" invasion in March 2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The invasion has since forced 2.2 million of those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the country.

It is believed that nearly half of Iraq's doctors have fled. The exodus of health care professionals in a country hemorrhaging from the worst kinds of violence pretty much qualifies as nightmarish.

Another two million have been displaced internally. Most of these internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.'s, live in very poor conditions. Public buildings are particularly unsanitary, often overcrowded, without access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic services, in conditions especially conducive to infectious diseases.

Based on all available evidence, it seems unreasonable to believe that fewer than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed thus far. Many very serious scholars believe the total is much higher.

Conditions in Iraq were dire for children even before the war. One in eight died before the age of 5, many from the effects of malnutrition, polluted water and unsanitary conditions. Now, more than four years after the invasion, according to Unicef, the U.N.'s children's agency: "Many children are separated from their families or on the streets, where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most children have experienced trauma but few receive the care and support they need to help them cope with so much chaos, anxiety and loss."

[Excerpt of an article by Bob Herbert, New York Times]


Tutu: Poverty fueling terror

The global "war on terror" can't be won if people are living in "desperate" conditions, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told CNN.

"You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate -- poverty, disease, ignorance, et cetera," the Nobel laureate said.

Tutu said the disparity between the rich and poor in parts of the world causes instability and insecurity, but added that he was hopeful the relationship between the two was becoming clear.

"I think people are beginning to realize that you can't have pockets of prosperity in one part of the world and huge deserts of poverty and deprivation and think that you can have a stable and secure world," he said.

The former head of South Africa's Anglican church is an advocate of reconciliation, and he often speaks out against violence and is a frequent critic of human rights abusers. Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his vocal opposition and leadership against South Africa's apartheid system -- a government-sanctioned policy of racial separation which ended in 1994.

More on the subject


25th Anniversary of the Sabra-Shatilla Massacre

It was twenty-five years ago this week since the September 15-18, 1982 Massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra-Shatila. Will anyone remember? Does anyone really care anymore?

On Sunday September 19, 1982, [my wife, now deceased] watched, sickened, as families and Red Crescent workers created a subterranean mountain of butchered and bullet riddled victims from those 48 hours of slaughter. Some of the bodies had limbs and heads chopped off, some boys castrated, Christian crosses carved into some of the bodies.

As [she] later wrote to me in [her] perfect cursive:

“I saw dead women in their houses with their skirts up to their waists and their legs spread apart; dozens of young men shot after being lined up against an ally wall; children with their throats slit, a pregnant woman with her stomach chopped open, her eyes still wide open, her blackened face silently screaming in horror; countless babies and toddlers who had been stabbed or ripped apart and who had been thrown into garbage piles”.

The old 7-storey Kuwaiti Embassy from where Ariel Sharon, Eytan, Yaron, Elie Hobeika, Fradi Frem and others maintained radio contact and monitored the 48 hours of carnage with a clear view into the camps was torn down years ago. A new one has been built and they are still constructing a Mosque on its grounds.

I am sorry to report that today in Lebanon, the families of the victims of the Massacre daily sink deeper into the abyss. No where on earth do the Palestinians live in such filth and squalor. ‘Worse than Gaza!” a journalist recently in Palestine exclaims.

Continued misery in the camps has taken a heavy psychological toll on the residents of Sabra and Shatila, aid workers here say. In Sabra-Shatilla schools will run double shifts when they open at the end of this month and electricity and water are still a big problem.

Many of the killers [Christian Lebanese Forces, following the national amnesty] now freely admit that they conducted a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter that left hundreds, as many as 3,500 they claim, possibly more, of innocent civilians dead in what is considered the bloodiest single incident of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a crime for which Israel will be condemned for eternity.

I regret to report that all those who perpetrated the Massacre at Sabra-Shatilla escaped justice. None of the hundreds of Phalange and Haddad militia who carried out the slaughter were ever punished.


The U.S. has created a Warfare State

Estimates of the cost of the Iraq war continue to escalate to levels well beyond what its optimistic architects once promised. Most notable, perhaps, has been the estimate of Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz, who, in a January 2006 paper with Harvard’s Linda Bilmes, put the full cost at around $2 trillion.

The $2 trillion number – the sum of the current and future budgetary costs along with the economic impact of lives lost, jobs interrupted and oil prices driven higher by political uncertainty in the Middle East – now seems low.

Additionally, expenditures for “homeland security” surely belong in any reckoning of defense spending. Plus, additional programs involved in defense are spread throughout the budgets of various other Cabinet departments. Then there is the supplemental spending earmarked for present military adventures (not part of the defense budget, contrary to popular impression), in this case Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the portion of the federal government’s net interest payments that is attributable to deficit-financed defense spending in the past.

Robert Higgs estimates that the real defense budget is probably about twice as large as the sum officially allocated to the Department of Defense.

However, the real cost of military activities should also be measured in human and natural resources and in the stocks of productive capital absorbed in producing, transporting, and maintaining weapons and other military equipment. It is in the sense of alternative opportunities lost that military spending should be considered – the numbers of people employed by the military, the goods and services it purchases from the private sector, the real estate it ties up, and the technology devoted to it. Not only do we lose the opportunity for civilian use of goods and services, but we also lose the potential economic growth that these resources might have brought about.

[Excerpt of an article by Thomas E. Woods, Jr, senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute]


US Muslims wary of giving charity amid crackdown

As Ramazan approaches, many US Muslims are worried about how they will manage to fulfill their charitable obligations without raising the ire or attention of federal authorities. (Ramazan is when Muslims typically do the bulk of their required giving known as “zakat”.)

In 2005, federal agents knocked on the doors of prominent Detroit-area Muslims and asked them if they were planning on donating to Michigan-based Life for Relief and Development and other charities.

In 2006, Life was raided and every local television station was on hand to capture images of federal agents carting away computers and boxes of documents. Life for Relief and Development has managed to keep operating despite the bad publicity from the 2006 raid, said administrative director Mohammad Alomari. But it had to go to court to prevent its bank from flagging it as a money launderer or terrorist financer when the charity’s account was closed shortly after the raid.

“These are indirect ways of having Islamic charities close down without due process,” said Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It scares away the donors and even some employees.”

While it is important to ensure that charitable funds are not diverted to terrorist activities, the federal government’s inability or refusal to provide hard evidence against the charities has created a backlash, said Shereef Akeel, a lawyer who represents two raided Muslim charities.

Many Muslims have stopped donating to overseas programmes out of fear that the money will be either frozen or tied up in legal fees and that they could be held liable for inadvertently funding terrorism.

“People in the Muslim community are scared. They have to give zakat. But how do you give it? Do you give it only to the mosque? Do you give it to a friend who takes it overseas? The avenues of giving are narrower.”

Excerpt of an article by Mira Oberman, The Daily Times]


“Have gun, will fight for paycheck” marketplace for warfare

On the Internet, numerous videos have spread virally showing what appear to be foreign mercenaries using Iraqis as target practice, much to the embarrassment of the firms involved.

Dozens of American soldiers have been court-martialed -- 64 on murder-related charges alone -- but not a single armed contractor has been prosecuted for a crime against an Iraqi. In some cases, where contractors were alleged to have been involved in crimes or deadly incidents, their companies whisked them out of Iraq to safety.

U.S. contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: "What happens here today, stays here today." International diplomats say Iraq has demonstrated a new U.S. model for waging war; one which poses a creeping threat to global order.

"To outsource security-related, military related issues to non-government, non-military forces is a source of great concern and it caught many governments unprepared," says Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran U.N. diplomat, who served as head of the U.N. Iraq mission before the U.S. invasion.

"Have gun, will fight for paycheck" has become a globalized law.

[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute]


The bloody reality behind the statistics

Improvements in US battlefield medicine have greatly increased survival rates. In the Second World War, 30 per cent of the Americans injured in combat died. In Vietnam, this dropped to 24 per cent. In the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, about 10 per cent of those injured die

The medics had 20 minutes’ warning. A soldier badly wounded by a roadside bomb was coming in. As they cut away his blood-sodden bandages in the trauma ward they found that all four limbs had either been severed or were attached by little more than skin. He had 70 per cent burns to what was left of his body.

They worked frantically to keep him alive. All his remaining limbs were amputated except for the top of one arm. Within hours he was air-borne again – this time bound for Germany and an onward flight to the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. There, some time soon, he will wake to realise that life as he knew it is over.

He is 19. “They were devastating injuries,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Bill Costello, the officer in charge of the Emergency Treatment Section. “I’ve seen so many of them.”

For Western publics this is a sanitized war. Iraq is too dangerous for news teams to record properly the daily shootings, bombings and executions.

The long-awaited congressional debate on President Bush’s war strategy will be driven by abstract figures. But to glimpse the human agony behind those figures, it helps to spend two days with the 28th CSH, a model of American medical excellence.

A seven-year-old Iraqi boy caught in a gunfight and hit in the abdomen; a two-year-old girl from Kalsu, with a bullet in her brain; a 62-year-old Sunni elder with at least five bullet holes in his back – the target of a drive-by shooting.

“Who can prepare you for this?” asked Major William White, 43, the nurse manager of the emergency room. “I’ve been doing this 24 years and I’ve never seen this kind of stuff.”

“Sometimes it takes your breath away. They call this a holy war, and for this to be done in the name of God appalls me,” said Major Aiken, the nursing supervisor of the 500-member unit.

[Excerpt of an article by


US paying Iraqi insurgents to fight Al-Qaeda

American forces are paying Sunni insurgents hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to switch sides and help them to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The tactic has boosted the efforts of American forces to restore some order to war-torn provinces around Baghdad in the run-up to a report by General David Petraeus, the US commander to Congress. (Petraeus will tell Congress that there has been great progress at a local level in Iraq following a surge in the number of troops this year, but little sign of political reconciliation.)

The Sunday Times has witnessed at first hand the enormous sums of cash changing hands. One sheikh in a town south of Baghdad was given $38,000 (£19,000) and promised a further $189,000 over three months to drive Al-Qaeda fighters from a nearby camp.

Administration officials say Petraeus hopes to report to Congress again in March, buying six more months for the surge to work before troop rotations make it impossible to keep 160,000 US forces in Iraq without overstretch.

[Excerpt of an article by


70 percent of Iraqi children suffer trauma stress

Half of Iraq's population of 27 million are children.

A USA Today report indicates that 70 percent of Iraqi children suffer from symptoms of traumatic stress syndrome manifested in psychiatric and psychological symptoms. These children daily witness death and destruction in their neighborhood. This is not surprising since a third of our own soldiers in Iraq return with symptoms of mental illness and traumatic stress disorder.

But it is difficult for citizens in the U.S. to empathize with those in Iraq.

The U.S. has suffered over 3,700 deaths and 27,000 wounded. Multiply these numbers by one hundred and you can get a sense of the impact of the war inside of Iraq -- a country one-tenth the size of our population.

[Excerpt of an article by Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine]


Billions bilked in Baghdad

On Tuesday, June 22, 2004, a tractor-trailer truck [transported] $2.4 billion in $100 bills. Under the watchful eye of bank employees in a glass-enclosed control room, and under the even steadier gaze of a video surveillance system, pallets of shrink-wrapped bills were lifted out of currency bays by unmanned "storage and retrieval vehicles".

Hours later the truck arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. There the seals on the truck were broken, and the cash was off-loaded and counted by Treasury Department personnel. The money was transferred to a C-130 transport plane. The next day, it arrived in Baghdad.

That transfer of cash to Iraq was the largest one-day shipment of currency in the history of the New York Fed. It was not, however, the first such shipment of cash to Iraq. Between April 2003 and June 2004, $12 billion in U.S. currency—much of it belonging to the Iraqi people—was shipped from the Federal Reserve to Baghdad.

After the money was delivered to Iraq, oversight and control evaporated.

Of the $12 billion in U.S. banknotes delivered to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, at least $9 billion cannot be accounted for.

[Excerpt of an article by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, Vanity Fair]


Another $50 billion down the Iraq occupation rat hole

OK, throw another $50 billion down the rat hole that is the Iraq occupation. It’s only money, if you ignore the lives being destroyed. That’s what the White House is asking for, in addition to the $147 billion in supplementary funds already requested, and Congress will grant it after Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker follow President Bush’s photo op in Iraq’s Anbar province with a dog and pony show of their own.

In the effort to retaliate against terrorists who hijacked planes six years ago with an arsenal of $3 knives, this year’s overall defense budget has been pushed to $657 billion. We are now spending $3 billion a week in Iraq alone, occupying a country that had nothing to do with the tragedy that sparked this orgy of militarism.

The waste is so enormous and irrelevant to our national security that a rational person might embrace the libertarian creed if only for the sake of sanity.

[Excerpt of a TruthDig article by Robert Scheer, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.]

Relevance of these figures:
"this year’s overall defense budget has been pushed to $657 billion"
"We are now spending $3 billion a week in
Iraq alone"

For an annual cost of $40-$70 Billion, UNICEF states this could reduce poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS and improve the plight of the world's children.


U.S. Poverty Data Raise New Questions About Cost of War

Nationwide, more than 36 million people, or nearly 13 percent of the total population, lived in poverty last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau report released this week. Among those officially considered "poor," over one third are children, most of them non-white minorities such as African Americans, Latinos, and Asians.

Noting that currently the U.S. government spends about $720 million a day on the war in Iraq, Joyce Miller, a human rights activist associated with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization, said that amount could buy school lunch for 1 million children.

Recent studies point out that over 23 million Americans seek emergency food each year. About 13 million American children worry where their next meal is coming from.

With that money, according to her, the government could also provide over 400,000 children with health care.

"Reducing poverty is not rocket science. We can go a long way by investing in education, health care, job training, and housing," she added.

In urging the Congress to adopt the human needs spending bills, the AFSC's Spivek said the nation should spend $720 million a day on ending poverty, not on war.

[Haider Rizvi, writing in OneWorld]


US war scandals lead to few convictions

Abuses involving United States soldiers in Iraq are increasingly the subject of detailed investigations, but have resulted in few convictions.

When photographs of US soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad were published in April 2004, the world gasped in horror. But after several investigations and years of hearings and military trials, only 11 soldiers - those that appear in the photographs of the incident - have been found guilty. Their sentences range from a few hours of community service to up to 10 years in prison.

The world again recoiled in horror when video footage taken just after the slaughter of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha was broadcast. Among other things it showed children who had been killed with shots to the head. Of the four Marines charged with murder in December, two have since had charges withdrawn, while allegations against a third are also expected to be dismissed.

Two soldiers who admitted killing prisoners in cold blood during a raid on an island on the Tigris River were sentenced to 18 years prison. They insisted they were following orders from their sergeant, who was found guilty of a lesser charge and sentenced to 10 years prison.

Human Rights First spokeswoman Hina Shamsi says more accountability is needed. "None of the cases brought to date has given the systemic accounting the nation needs of what happened, why and how far up the chain of command responsibility lies," she said. "[It] leaves more questions unanswered than answered about not just what was going on at Abu Ghraib, but the larger issues on interrogation policies and practices, what was authorised, by whom, and how far on the chain of command it went," she said.

[Excerpt of an AFP article]


The new US embassy castle in Baghdad

Baghdad is a city of ruins - of burnt-out homes, of shops wrecked by suicide bombs, of the crumbling shells of Saddam-era palaces and ministries. There is one notable exception. It is probably the only big new building project in the capital in the past four years. It is the new US Embassy on the west bank of the Tigris.

A towering wall renders the huge new embassy almost invisible from ground level. The only way to view it is from the roof of the Babylon hotel, across the river. What you can see through the haze of heat and pollution is a complex of two dozen smart new dun and grey blocks set in 104 acres (42 hectares) of grounds ringed by that impregnable wall. It is a fortress within the fortress that is the green zone. It is designed to repel any physical attack and. when it opens for business in a few weeks, it will be protected by a detachment of Marines with their own barracks.

This is the largest US Embassy built – roughly the size of Vatican City – and at $600 million the most expensive. At a time when millions of Baghdadis outside the green zone receive only a couple of hours of water and electricity daily, Iraqis observe that this project has been completed on time, on budget, and is entirely self-sufficient with its own fresh water supply, electricity plant, sewage treatment facility, maintenance shops and warehouses.

There are two office blocks that will house 1,000 staff, six apartment blocks containing 619 one-bedroom units, spacious residences for the Ambassador and his deputy, a school, shopping centre and food court; a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts; a gymnasium, cinema, beauty salon and social club.

Critics also portray the new compound as a symbol of American isolation and occupation, and a sign of how little confidence the US has in Iraq’s future. Jane Loeffler, an expert on the architecture of embassies, writes in the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine: “Encircled by blast walls and cut off from the rest of Baghdad, it stands out like the crusader castles that once dominated the Middle East.”

Edward Peck, a former US Ambassador to Iraq, says in the same magazine: “The embassy is going to have a thousand people hunkered behind sand-bags. I don’t know how you conduct diplomacy in that way.”

[The Times]


Lighting up Africa

The Dark Continent -- in one respect the moniker is still accurate, as a quick glance at a night satellite photograph of the globe proves. While the lights of Europe and America twinkle brightly, Africa is swathed in a cloak of blackness.

Even in Africa's most cosmopolitan cities—Johannesburg, Nairobi and Dakar—where the electricity grid is well-established, power cuts are a common aggravation, with neighborhoods suddenly plunged into darkness. To counteract this, the clatter of back-up generators has become a familiar soundtrack to life in the wealthier suburbs.

Development experts have long fretted about the knock-on effect that power shortages have on the continent's ability to haul itself out of poverty. Put in simple human terms, an estimated half a billion people do not have any electricity whatsoever.

It is with a view to plugging the gap that the World Bank is set to unveil its Lighting Africa initiative. The target is to get 250 million Africans supplied with clean-energy lighting by 2030.

Many of the continent's poorest people are dependent on kerosene lamps or candles, and typically spend at least a 10th of their income on lighting their shacks. The future, according to the World Bank, is LED lighting. LEDs are very efficient, in that they use a very small amount of power (typically one watt) but produce enough light to read by. They can also be recharged with mechanically-operated chargers such as hand cranks or pedal power, which makes them particularly suitable for African villages far from the grid.

For now, it looks like it could be some time before the African joke—"What did we do before we used candles? We had electricity"—becomes obsolete.

[Excerpt of an article by Claire Soares, The Independent]


Second British general slams U.S. Iraq policy

A second retired British general slammed the United States over its Iraq policy, saying in a newspaper interview published Sunday that it had been "fatally flawed."

Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the most senior British officer involved in the postwar planning, said he had raised serious concerns about the possibility of Iraq falling into chaos but said former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the warnings.

"Right from the very beginning we were all very concerned about the lack of detail that had gone into the postwar plan and there is no doubt that Rumsfeld was at the heart of that process," Cross said in the Sunday Mirror newspaper.

In December, President Bush praised Rumsfeld for his service and made no mention of the often-harsh criticism of Rumsfeld. "Every decision Don Rumsfeld made over the past six years, he always put the troops first, and the troops knew it," Bush said.

Gen. Cross, 59, who was deputy head of the coalition's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in 2003, said he had raised concerns about the number of troops on the ground in Iraq but was ignored. "There is no doubt that with hindsight the U.S. postwar plan was fatally flawed and many of us sensed that at the time," Cross said


British General Speaks out on Iraq

General Sir Mike Jackson launched a scathing attack on the US for mishandling the aftermath of the Iraq war. Sir Mike, head of the army during the 2003 invasion, lambasted Washington's post-war policy as "intellectually bankrupt". Sir Mike's autobiography brands the US's approach to fighting global terrorism as "inadequate" - insisting it relies too much on military power over diplomacy and nation-building.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, he also singled out ex-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for criticism. He lays the blame for the chaos engulfing Iraq firmly at the door of Mr Rumsfeld, saying he was "one of the most responsible for the current situation".

Former Tory defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind also backed Sir Mike's intervention. He told the BBC: "I think one of the most fundamental criticisms is not just that Rumsfeld was incompetent - which he was - but it was actually his boss, George Bush, who actually made the extraordinary decision to put the Pentagon and Rumsfeld in control of political nation-building after the actual war ended."

[Leicester Mercury]


Army National Guard Spc. Eleonai "Eli" Israel speaks out

Two months ago, I took a stand that changed my life forever. As a Soldier, a JVB Protective Service Agent, and a Sniper with the Army who had been in Iraq for a year (running over 250 combat missions), I refused to continue to be a part of the occupation.

I regret nothing.

This is my story. Currently, as I write this I am sitting in Kuwait, on "stand-by" to return to the States sometime hopefully this week. After getting out of the brig last week, I’m now scheduled to be discharged from the Army within the month. I'm looking forward to joining forces with anti-Iraq-War movements, such as Courage to Resist and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

What led me to this place in my life?

[Read more: "Courage to Resist" website ]