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State Department halts dignitary visits … for four days

September 21, 2007 | 2008 campaign,Death,Defense industry,Dignitary visits,Ethics,Iraq,Military,MSM


Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is pissed. Blackwater USA employees killed one Iraqi police officer and 10 Iraqi civilians and wounded at least 13 Iraqi bystanders in a shootout in Baghdad on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. Maliki called the action criminal, threatened to prosecute those involved, canceled Blackwater’s operating license and ordered the company out of the country on Monday. On Tuesday, the United States suspended all land travel by U.S. diplomats and other civilian officials in Iraq outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.

Scratch that. Convoys guarded by Blackwater resumed today after suspending them for only four days. The U.S. embassy struck back at the prime minister, releasing a report that details corruption in his government.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got the prime minister to agree to set up a commission to “look into the matter.” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., asked Blackwater USA founder and owner Erik Prince to appear before the House Government Reform Committeeon Oct. 2, 2007, to determine if private contractors serve U.S. interests in Iraq and whether Blackwater USA “has advanced or impeded U.S. efforts.”

I’m curious. Who were the U.S. diplomats being guarded by Blackwater employees, and will they be required to testify before the committee?

Was it Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and his delegation — Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., and fourth-timer Steve Pearce, R-N.M. — who recently returned from an “intense two-day tour” of Iraq? No. They were there the weekend before last.

Was it Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Ohio, and his delegation — Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., Peter King, R-N.Y., Tom Latham, R-Iowa, Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio — who just returned from Iraq? No. They were in Baghdad earlier last week. (Gosh, it’s hard to keep track, isn’t it?)

Was it third-time visitor Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and her delegation — Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., fourth-timer Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and third-timer Ken Salazar, D-Colo.? Maybe. They were on the heels of the other delegation and were in Iraq on Saturday and Sunday.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne E. Tyrrell said Blackwater’s contractors acted lawfully and that the “civilians” who were killed were armed enemies. An Iraqi report said Blackwater guards were not ambushed. Instead, they fired at a car when it did not heed a police officer’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant. In video shot after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire.

In the meantime, Blackwater remains in Iraq, and Rice is telling everyone she has ordered a “full and complete review” of security practices, including Blackwater, which has a $1 billion, five-year contract with the U.S. State Department.

USA TODAY added an update to its breaking-news blog:

Update at 4:45 p.m. ET:We’ve requested comment from Blackwater USA. In the meantime, campaign finance records show that Prince has been a big donor to the Republican Party. In July, he gave $20,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Nice try, but that’s just the beginning.

Prince also gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $25,000 in 2005, $25,000 in 2004, $20,000 in 2000, $15,000 in 1989, $1,000 in 1986, as well as $71,950 to the RNC Republican National State Elections Committee in 2000, and the following:

  • $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who visited Iraq in September 2006.
  • $1,000 on Sept. 26, 2005, and $1,000 on Nov. 16, 2004, to Rep. Thomas DeLay, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in August 2003.
  • $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who visited Iraq in February 2005.
  • $500 on Sept. 21, 1999, $1,000 on Aug. 24, 2004, and $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Minn., who visited Iraq in August 2003, September 2003, June 2004 and November 2004.
  • $1,000 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who visited Iraq at least six times.
  • $2,100 on Aug. 23, 2006, to Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., who visited Iraq in November 2004 and February 2007.
  • $1,000 on Nov. 2, 2004, to Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who visited Iraq in September 2003.
  • $1,000 on Jan. 4, 2006, and $2,000 on Dec. 19, 2005, to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who visited Iraq in February 2004, September 2005 and April 2007 (his fifth visit).
  • $750 on Oct. 29, 2004, to Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, who visited Iraq in February 2005.
  • $1,000 on Oct. 31, 2005, and $500 on Sept. 26, 2005, to Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., who visited Iraq in October 2003 and July 2005.
  • $1,000 on March 31, 2005, to Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., who visited Iraq in September 2003.

That’s just for starters. I’ll keep looking. The USA TODAY guy might want to do the same.

Posted by Becky @ 4:36 pm | Comments  

Organization does more fact-checking on Bush’s speech

September 20, 2007 | Death,Ethics,George Bush,Iraq

FactCheck does more thorough fact-checking on President George W. Bush’s speech about Iraq on national television Sept. 13, 2007.

Posted by Becky @ 4:59 pm | Comments  

Two soldiers who wrote NYT op-ed die in Iraq

September 12, 2007 | Death,Iraq,Military,MSM

I have no words. Paul Rieckhoff covers it well.

Posted by Becky @ 8:08 pm | Comments  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 5

September 11, 2007 | 2008 campaign,Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

War is Peace — Freedom is Slavery — Ignorance is Strength

This war is about peace. — President George W. Bush

Sanctioned visits to Iraq by elected officials started in May 2003, and they have been back-to-back ever since. A National Guard general tried to see his troops in late 2003, but a Defense Department policy restricted his travel “for safety reasons” because a limited number of soldiers were available for security details. The general could not visit his troops, but more than 20 delegations visited Iraq in just eight months in 2003. (He finally got to visit his troops by the end of the year.)

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., started the parade of delegations to Iraq by requesting a visit in early 2003. The Pentagon and the State Department refused. He took off for Iraq anyway in April by joining a convoy of relief workers into Iraq.

This will not be my last time going to Iraq. — Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

He was correct. He has been to Iraq 18 times … so far.

Less than a month later, a delegation left for Baghdad on May 23, 2003. Until then, Baghdad had been off limits because it was unsafe, even with armed military escorts. Elected officials insisted on going, however, saying they could not exercise “congressional oversight” from Washington. Three more delegations visited from June to August.

Even though 23 people died in a car bombing of the Baghdad United Nations headquarters on Aug. 19, 2003, an 11-member delegation visited the city on Aug. 25.

By the end of 2003, about a third of the U.S. Congress had visited Iraq.

The Pentagon promoted congressional visits, and House GOP leaders asked every Republican member to visit Iraq as soon as possible. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld believed visits would increase congressional support.

Surprise, surprise. They did.

I was hopeful that progress was being made, but based on the media coverage I had seen, I wasn’t certain. After three days of touring the country, I am now certain that we are making progress. — Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., after his Sept. 13-15, 2003, visit to Iraq (York Daily Record, Sept. 24, 2003).

War is peace.

U.S. House members were part of a delegation in Iraq, Oct. 6-10, 2003. Amory Houghton Jr., R-N.Y., said he was not concerned about his safety.

There’s a waiting list. A lot of people want to go. I think they’ll protect us pretty well. The one thing they don’t want to do is to have a bunch of congressmen slaughtered over there.— Rep. Amory Houghton, R-N.Y. (Star-Gazette)

(Delegation: Reps. Michael N. Castle, R-Del.; Jim Davis, D-Fla.; Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.; Amory Houghton Jr., R-N.Y.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y.; Fred Upton, R-Mich.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.)

War is peace.

Right on their heels was an all-female delegation during the week of Oct. 20, 2003. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, wondered if there was a more positive story in Iraq than often portrayed in media accounts that emphasize continuing violence and Iraqi and U.S. fatalities.

The positive stuff isn’t coming through. — Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio (The Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 10, 2003)

They wouldn’t be staying overnight in Iraq, though, for security reasons. (Delegation: Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jennifer Dunn, R-Wash., Katherine Harris, R-Fla., Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.)

War is peace.

Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., visited Nov. 6, 2003, even after a military transport helicopter went down, killing at least 16 troops (FLORIDA TODAY, Nov. 3, 2003). Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., expected to leave for Iraq in mid-November 2003 even though a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through United Nations headquarters (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003).

A suicide bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10, 2004, but Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country” during her delegation’s visit Feb. 10-11, 2004. Even though extensive security measures highlighted danger at every turn, Blanco said she never felt at risk: “We were well-protected.” Guard units in front and behind their vehicles escorted the delegation, and Apache helicopters flew overhead.

War is peace.

In April 2004, Rumsfeld, who extended the tours of some 20,000 troops, expressed surprise that the death toll was higher than he expected. April was the deadliest month of the war so far with 147 U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqis killed.

Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah returned with renewed confidence in the importance of the war and that troop morale was high after his visit June 3-6, 2004.

Things were going fine in Iraq. — Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)

Unconcerned for his safety, Bennett reported a sense of optimism from Iraq. He blamed the slowed Iraq reconstruction on Americans who protested the way building and infrastructure contracts were awarded. (Delegation: Sens. Robert F. Bennett, R-Utah; Bill Frist, R-Tenn; John Ensign, R-Nev.)

War is peace.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and three others visited Baghdad and Fallujah, June 11-13, 2004. They wore body armor at all times, but Davis said,

… it wasn’t like there was a bomb going off every minute. — Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., June 2004

War is peace.

Two U.S. troops died on July 14, 2004, when a suicide bomb killed 11 and wounded 40 near the British embassy, insurgents beheaded a hostage and assassinated the governor of Mosul and the director general of Iraq’s Industry Ministry, capping off an explosion of violence in July, as almost 36 U.S. troops died in the first two weeks.

At least seven more delegations visited in August and September, during which time a mortar hit the roof of the U.S. embassy, and two mortar shells exploded about 500 yards from a delegation waiting to board a helicopter, and one U.S. soldier died in Baghdad that day.

Continued violence kept a September delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time in helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Another delegation visited while officials sought freedom for several hostages. Two car bombs wounded American and Iraqi troops west of Baghdad on Sept. 26. Egyptian and British leaders urged the release of abducted workers and a civil engineer kidnapped with two Americans, later beheaded. Insurgents had kidnapped more than 140 foreigners and killed at least 26 of them. A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one and wounding eight. Hours later, another loud blast shook the U.S. embassy, where the delegation was.

A car bomb exploded in front of the Green Zone in October 2004, and another delegation arrived days later. Several more delegations visited from then until the end of the year. In January 2005, insurgents bombed the U.S. embassy, killing two Americans, while a delegation was in Baghdad for the elections. Yet another delegation visited in mid-January 2005.

As 55 people died in Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said none of the senators dared drive through Baghdad’s streets, even in armored cars during her Feb. 19, 2005, visit. Even so,

Much of Iraq was functioning quite well. — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Feb. 19, 2005

War is peace.

A delegation visited Baghdad on April 1, 2007. A U.S. soldier and American contractor died, and a rocket wounded five people. Officials acknowledged an increase in violence after 500 Iraqis and six U.S. troops died, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., visited Baghdad and insisted security was improving. Four soldiers died when an explosive detonated near their vehicle in Baghdad on April 1. (Delegation: Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.)

War is peace.

Under the table Winston’s feet made convulsive movements. … He was back at the Ministry of Love, with everything forgiven, his soul white as snow. He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody. He was walking down the white-tiled corridor, with the feeling of walking in sunlight, and an armed guard at his back. The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain. … But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.

This just in — The surge is working.

Posted by Becky @ 10:57 am | 5 Comments  

Ministry of Truth: Iraq is fun!

August 28, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism,Military,MSM,PR

All you see among the talking heads is that another soldier was killed today. It must be taken into perspective. How many people were killed in Washington, D.C., at the same time? — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., criticizing media coverage of Iraq after his visit there when rockets damaged an American-occupied hotel in Baghdad (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 29, 2003).


According to this chart, Washington, D.C., had about 250 murders in 2003. That’s 4.8 people killed every week.

In 2003 in Iraq:

That’s 12,930 people who died in Iraq, or 248 a week, the equivalent of people killed in D.C. in the entire year. What exactly was his point anyway? When just “another soldier was killed today,” what does he want the “talking heads” to report?

Maybe someone who works for the Ministry of Truth government can answer that.

Susan Phalen is a senior adviser for Iraq communications for the U.S. Department of Stateand oversees the Global Outreach Team for the U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Section. She has been to Iraq nine times as a public-affairs team leader. Phalen spoke Friday, Aug. 24, 2007, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., at a luncheon held by the Conservative Women’s Network of the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute. The speech aired on C-SPAN. (I can’t get the video link to work, but maybe it will show up in the archives.)

She talked about “what’s happening in Iraq that you’re not getting from the media.” She described her work as “fun” several times.

In an interview published April 9, 2007, in the Omaha World-Herald, Phalen said:

Our goal is to try to show the American taxpayers what’s happening over here and what the story is beyond the bloodshed and the car bombs.

Almost in the same breath, she described living in the Green Zone where “rockets and mortars sometimes fly inside and explode.” She said that a rocket recently blew up just outside of a building where she was, killing several people and wounding several others.

Those of us on the inside tried to rush back out because we could hear screaming. But we couldn’t get out. They locked the building down. It was a very intense and emotional little while.

Yeah, sounds like fun! to me.

In an interview published April 26, 2007, by the Lincoln Journal-Star, the story Phalen told went “beyond the blood and the bombs” to the “good news” of Iraq. On this particular day, she visited the Army hospital in the Green Zone and found six children:

  • a malnourished 13-month-old named Shahar whose parents were killed by an IED (improvised explosive device).
  • a 7-year-old named Mohammed whose mouth was wired open because a sniper’s bullet pierced his jaw and cheek.
  • a 5-year-old named Zaib who was caught in crossfire and shot in the stomach.
  • a 10-year-old girl, who shares a room with her father; both were injured by an IED that killed her mother.
  • a 10-year-old boy, who was shot in the stomach.
  • a girl who could have been 6 or 10, who died by the time Phalen returned to the hospital that afternoon.

Hold on. I just lost my train of thought there for a second. Someone help me out here (because the reporter certainly didn’t). What was the “good news” part of this story again?

Back to her luncheon speech, Phalen criticized journalists for not leaving Baghdad to cover the rest of Iraq, which she does regularly, under full security by the U.S. military. They’re missing out on some good stories, she said.

Sigh. Tsk, tsk. Those journalists. They just don’t know how to have fun!

Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi was removed from Iraq for a “scheduled vacation” after she described an unfun Iraq in an e-mail to family and friends in 2004. It leaked and made the rounds in cyberspace. She wrote a diary for Columbia Journalism Review, eventually returned from vacation (newly assigned to Lebanon) and wrote an article about Iraq in 2006.

Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio Express-News, was in Baghdad the day Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., toured a Baghdad market in April 2007, declared it fun! and then later complained in the Washington Post about how journalists reported only bad news. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said the Baghdad market was just like a normal outdoor market back home in Indiana.

Christenson called bullshit in an Aug. 6, 2007, article on Nieman Watchdog. He said nothing in Iraq is normal, except death:

You can’t put lipstick on this little pig and pass it off as life in Indiana.

Yeah, but is it fun?

Posted by Becky @ 9:49 pm | 1 Comment  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 4

2008 campaign,Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

How to spot a dignitary visit to Iraq.

Some dignitary is at the embassy? Boom!

Mortars, rockets or car bombs strike in and around the U.S. embassy and Green Zone with regularity during most, if not all, delegation visits, killing and injuring more U.S. troops. (Remember, preparing one site for a dignitary visit can involve 200 to 300 troops and start from two to three days out.)

An American delegation met Iranians in Baghdad on May 28, 2007. Brilliant. Hold a high-profile meeting of dignitaries … in Baghdad. Oh, and publicize it. I don’t know. Isn’t that sort of like holding a national hurricane convention in Florida during a Category 5 hurricane – and expecting the National Guard to stand outside in the storm?

The more the merrier

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., was also in Iraq on Memorial Day 2007 with a delegation. While he was there, a 24-year-old Connecticut soldier died in a helicopter crash, which Courtney called a “terrible tragedy.” Emphasizing the danger of their visit, a roadside bomb exploded about 500 yards from where the delegation was in Baghdad.

Ten U.S. troops died on Memorial Day, a car bomb killed at least 21 people, and insurgents hijacked a bus and kidnapped 15 passengers in Baghdad. Two U.S. troops died May 27.

Three blasts rocked the compound where British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Iraqi leaders on May 19, 2007, and one explosion occurred just outside the Green Zone. Initial reports mentioned that one person was injured and (whew!) it was not someone in Blair’s party. Right. It was an American soldier. Seven U.S. troops also died that day.

An explosion rattled the windows of the U.S. embassy, where Vice President Dick Cheney spent most of the day, May 9, 2007. Thirty-seven U.S. troops died leading up to and surrounding the May 2007 visits by Cheney and Blair.

Is this a new development? Nope. It’s déjà vu.

One U.S. soldier providing security for U.S. officials visiting Baghdad died July 6, 2003. One U.S. soldier on patrol in Baghdad during a delegation visit died July 7, 2003.

Even though 23 people died from a car bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003, an 11-member delegation visited the city just days later on Aug. 25, 2003, and again on Aug. 28. They visited Kirkuk on Aug. 29. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said the bombing would not change the delegation’s plans.

I don’t want to do anything foolish, but I think it’s very important that I go there. If I’m ordering young men and women to go into harm’s way, as a member of Congress I need to see what they’re dealing with. — Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. (Westport News, Aug. 29, 2003)

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the bombing was a wake-up call, but he had a personal duty as a member of Congress to visit Iraq.

I believe our military forces would stop us from going if it weren’t relatively safe for us to go over there.— Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. (Public Opinion, Aug. 23, 2003)

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., worried about their safety but said the risk troops were taking in Iraq was “far more than I’ll be taking” (Star Tribune, Aug. 20, 2003).

How much risk were the troops taking with his delegation there?

(In addition to Kennedy, Shays and Shuster, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., was part of the delegation.)

Seventeen members of Congress took a five-day tour of the region, including Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, Sept. 25-28, 2003. American-occupied al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was attacked Sept. 27. Three makeshift rockets were fired at the hotel, one hitting and superficially damaging part of its 14th floor, another landing in a courtyard, and a third damaging a private house nearby (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 29, 2003). Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said protecting U.S. troops was his highest priority, but he criticized media coverage of Iraq.

All you see among the talking heads is that another soldier was killed today. It must be taken into perspective. How many people were killed in Washington, D.C., at the same time? — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. (The Press-Enterprise, Oct. 1, 2003)

While they were there, seven soldiers died, one from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s home state of New Jersey. At a hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Frelinghuysen said he had a positive experience in Iraq (Hearing before the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, Oct. 8, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas; Ken Calvert, R-Calif.; Davis, Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Tim Holden, D-Pa.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Rick Larsen, D-Wash.; Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; George Nethercutt, R-Wash.; Todd Platts, R-Pa.; Don Sherwood, R-Pa.; John Shimkus, R-Ill.; Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.; Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.; James Walsh, R-N.Y.)

Overlapping that trip was a five-member delegation with five House members who visited Iraq Oct. 11-12, 2003. They were in Mosul on Oct. 12 when a suicide attack killed at least seven people in Baghdad. That was the seventh fatal car-bomb attack since early August, and military officials reported an average of 22 attacks a day against U.S. forces the week before (Star Tribune, Oct. 14, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. John Kline, R-Minn.; John M. McHugh, R-N.Y.; Jim Saxton, R-N.J.; Jim Turner, D-Texas; Michael Turner, R-Ohio.)

Just before President George W. Bush visited for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2003, a U.S. soldier died in a mortar attack.

A mortar hit the roof of the U.S. embassy in the fortified International Zone, and two mortar shells exploded about 500 yards from a delegation that was waiting to board a helicopter on Aug. 19, 2004 (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 29, 2004).

(Delegation: Reps. John Boozman, R-Ark., Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Tom Cole, R-Okla., Jim Marshall, D-Ga., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Adam Schiff, D-Calif.)

A delegation visited in September 2004, and a rocket exploded near the U.S. embassy, where they were staying. Seven troops died during that visit.

A delegation visited Sept. 25-26, 2004, amid violence and officials seeking freedom for several hostages. Two car bombs wounded American and Iraqi troops west of Baghdad on Sept. 26. Egyptian and British leaders urged the release of six Egyptian telecommunications workers abducted with four Iraqis the week before and Kenneth Bigley, a British civil engineer kidnapped Sept. 16 with two American civil engineers, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, who later were beheaded. More than 140 foreigners had been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 26 had been killed. Fighting in Ramadi killed at least three people and wounded four, and insurgents fired mortar rounds and rockets at two U.S. positions. A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one person and wounding eight. Hours after the attack, another loud blast shook the U.S. embassy (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 27, 2004). Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said the situation in Iraq was getting worse, as his delegation was in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Sept. 26 when a rocket landed about 500 meters away. Confined to Baghdad (it was too dangerous to travel elsewhere), they saw little of the city because the military designed their travel so they would not become targets. They traveled in Humvees and armored helicopters with at least six troops as escorts. Garrett reported regular mortar and rocket attacks during their visit (Daily Record, Sept. 27, 2004; The Record, Sept. 28, 2004).

Only one person questioned these visits publicly during a campaign debate: Larry Diedrich, former senator of South Dakota, who was running against Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

When people go to Iraq, I hope we don’t put our troops in greater danger. I just want them to keep that in mind. That is a comment I hear around the state too.— Larry Diedrich, South Dakota

Herseth was “insulted” by his words that suggested she “might have put American troops at risk.”

Many have traveled to Iraq. It is our responsibility, it is our duty to stay close to them, see firsthand their work and find out what they need in their jobs to carry out their mission. So it is insulting that anyone says the trip puts the soldiers in danger. I’m disappointed in Larry Diedrich. — Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. (Argus Leader, Oct. 17, 2004).

The end.

(Delegation: Reps. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; Ernest Istook, R-Okla.; Tom Osborne, R-Neb.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.)

Well, not quite. It never really ends.

Insurgents bombed the U.S. embassy, killing two Americans, while a delegation was in Baghdad in January 2005 for the elections.

A mortar shell sailed into the Green Zone in March 2006 when a delegation was there, and a U.S. soldier died.

Baghdad still feels like an occupation zone. I was physically present in Baghdad, as I noted, for about 24 hours, but it is hard to say that I saw the city. I left with an enduring image of concrete barriers and convoys of SUVs. I last visited Baghdad in March 2005, and the environment now is no better than it was at that time. The three mortar rounds that exploded during one meeting I had with an Iraqi vice president – no one was harmed – they were launched from some way out, but still they hit. It shows just how insecure the city remains. — Rep. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., reporting on his Web site about his Jan. 9-10, 2007, visit to Iraq

Oops. Brownback must have missed the memo from Rep. Jerry Lewis about telling only the “good news” from Iraq.

A car bomb “shook the windows” of the U.S. embassy and five U.S. troops died when Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., met Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad in mid-April 2007 (Lincoln Journal-Star, April 19, 2007).

Posted by Becky @ 12:03 pm | Comments  

Let’s talk about MRAPs

August 21, 2007 | Death,Iraq,Military,MRAP vehicles

Remember last month?

In the Democratic debate on June 3, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., mentioned getting 2,500 mine-resistant V-shaped armored vehicles into Iraq by August to “save lives,” and he has pushed this idea several times since. It seemed oddly specific, so I looked it up. Those vehicles are called MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. They will not be available by August. They will not be available until 2009, at a cost of $900,000 each. The U.S. Army plans to buy 2,500 MRAPs over the next three years, at a cost of $2.25 billion. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to replace its 3,700 Humvees in Iraq, which will cost $3.7 billion. That’s a sweet $6-billion deal for some defense company. Do Biden and his colleagues want to prolong this war another two years so they can fulfill contracts?

It’s August, and 2,500 MRAPs have not been sent to Iraq.

Posted by Becky @ 10:04 pm | 1 Comment  

Covering the war, part 7

August 3, 2007 | Death,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism,Local news

Metro section, page 1 (above the fold, 4-column photograph)

Local soldier, killed in Iraq, comes home (photo credit: Chris Urso/Tribune).

Page 1

Teaser to metro front-page article about soldier.

The St. Petersburg Times covered the story, and it has a section called “Our Casualties of War.” A local television station also covered the story.

Well done.

Posted by Becky @ 12:47 pm | Comments  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 3

August 2, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

Second verse, same as the first

Here’s how to spot an account of a dignitary visit to Iraq.

  • Shrouded in secrecy
  • Can’t divulge travel itinerary
  • Scary C-130 ride
  • Military personnel with scary weapons
  • Flak jackets
  • Helmets
  • Black Hawk helicopters
  • Flying low
  • Humvees
  • Green Zone
  • Heavy security
  • Meet-and-greets
  • Lunch with (preferably “hometown”) troops
  • Stern or frank discussions with Iraqi leaders
  • Firsthand experience on the ground
  • Danger at every turn
  • Bombs exploding within spitting distance (more on that later)
  • But things look good (more on the PR campaign later)
  • And, oh yeah, some troops died

What you won’t see.

  • Gee, I wonder if any of those deaths had anything to do with … my visit?

Here are a couple examples to get you started.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., March 2005:

We … boarded a C-130. There were a number of soldiers on board … We sat in seats lined on the wall and took deep breaths as we took off from Kuwait. … we had to don our flak jackets and helmets. They are heavy! … Suddenly the plane just started dropping, we did this amazing zig zag in – sort of spiraled down very fast … It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid any “incoming”… and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat. … We exited the plane and the scene was stark – soldiers, machine guns, maneuvering us quickly into what they called ice cream trucks – that looked just like that but were bullet and “IED” reinforced. … boarded a “helo” and with our flak jackets and helmets we sat in these helicopters and flew out – with a machine gun 6 inches in front of me pointed out the plane as we rode 25 feet above ground. … We landed in the Green Zone and were met with serious security. We … met … temporary Ambassador … joined by General Casey for a briefing on the military side. … I ate lunch with 2 Marines … then went back outside and got in vans under intense security even though we remained in the Green Zone and traveled to another palace where we met with … Prime Minister … then convoyed to the convention center where the new parliament is being set up. It was inside the Green Zone but even more intense security. We … met with the Kurdish Leader … Sunni Leader … I think all see it as a time of both hope and danger with much work to be done before a government is in place later this month.

Oh, and by the way:

… the airport had been closed shortly before we landed because of a mortar attack, and there had been a mortar attack that fell a few feet short of the Green Zone last night.

We goin’ to Disney World!

You know, maybe she’s right. Maybe it is like an “All American amusement park.” They get their tickets. They stand in line. They get on the ride. They get scared and excited. They puke in the bushes. Then they go stand in line and do it all over again. Whee!

January 2005 — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (from The Audacity of Hope):

… landing at Baghdad International Airport turned out not to be so bad — although I was thankful that we couldn’t see out the windows as the C-130 bucked and banked and dipped its way down. Our escort officer from the State Department was there to greet us, along with an assortment of military personnel with rifles slung over their shoulders. After getting our security briefing, recording our blood types, and being fitted for helmets and Kevlar vests, we boarded two Black Hawk helicopters and headed for the Green Zone, flying low … I would spend only a day and a half in Iraq, most of it in the Green Zone … now a U.S.-controlled compound, surrounded along its perimeter by blast walls and barbed wire. Reconstruction teams briefed usintelligence officers described the growing threat of sectarian militias … we met with members of the Iraqi Election Commission … for an hour we listened to U.S. Ambassador Khalilzadlunch with some of the troops … our delegation accompanied Ambassador Khalilzad for dinner at the home of Iraqi interim President Jalal Talabani. Security was tight as our convoy wound its way past a maze of barricades out of the Green Zone; outside, our route was lined with U.S. troops at one-block intervals, and we were instructed to keep our vests and helmets on for the duration of the drive. … greeted by the president and several members of the Iraqi interim government … I had difficulty sleeping that night; instead, I watched the Redskins game, piped in live via satellite to the pool house once reserved for Saddam and his guests. Several times I muted the TV and heard mortar fire pierce the silence. The following morning, we took a Black Hawk to the Marine base in Fallujah …

Oh, and by the way:

… just the previous day, five Marines on patrol had been killed by roadside bombs or small-arms fire.

Here are more examples over the years.

June 30, 2003:

A six-member delegation visited Iraq. “For security reasons, few details were released on the five-day trip.” (Austin American-Statesman, June 28, 2003) Although he could not disclose a detailed itinerary because of security reasons, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the delegation would visit Baghdad, Basra and southern Iraq, and they planned to be back in the
United States by July 4. “If I’m not still embedded in Iraq or tangling with Saddam Hussein, I’ll be in parades on July 4, 5 and 6,” he said. (Star Tribune, June 26, 2003)

At least somebody thinks a visit to Iraq is funny.

November 2003:

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., traveled with a delegation the week of Nov. 17, 2003. The departure date and itinerary were kept secret for security reasons. She could not say who else or how many were in the delegation, and the trip could be canceled at a moment’s notice if military leaders decided the situation was too unstable.” (Source: St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 13, 2003)

November 2003:

Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., joined a bipartisan congressional delegation to Iraq … will be the first member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the end of the war and the beginning of an arduous, often violent U.S. occupation. … For security reasons, details of the bipartisan trip were not released. Earlier this year, a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through the United Nations headquarters. (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003)

Nov. 28, 2003:

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., ate Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, and they planned to visit Iraq. Their “highly protected entourage” arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 25, and details of their trip were “shrouded in secrecy because of recent heightened fears of a new terrorist attack and
Clinton’s profile, which is higher than almost anyone else’s in Congress.” (New York Post, Nov. 27, 2003)

Jan. 5-6, 2004:

Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., could not release the exact dates of his trip “for security purposes,” but said, “I feel, as a moral issue, that if I vote to send people to fight in a war I have an obligation to be with them and take risks.”  (The Morning Call, Dec. 24, 2003) While on a six-day visit, Greenwood crawled into Saddam Hussein’s “spider hole.” The delegation stayed overnight in one of his Baghdad palaces. Greenwood said he never believed his life was in danger, but they experienced several “white-knuckle” trips in military vehicles operated by soldiers using evasive driving techniques and a low-level 150-mph Black Hawk helicopter ride. (The Morning Call, Jan. 13, 2004)

Feb. 10-11, 2004:

In a trip “cloaked in secrecy” and “kept under wraps for security reasons,” six governors and a reporter toured Baghdad, dined with troops and met with the Iraqi provisional government at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., proclaimed the visit a “historic bipartisan governor’s tour of Iraq.”

It was the first of such visits but certainly not the last. At least 36 governors have visited Iraq.

Even though a suicide truck bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10 and two troops, based in Fort Polk, La., died from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad on Feb. 11, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country.” Though extensive security measures during the visit highlighted the danger at every turn in Iraq, Blanco said she never felt at risk. “We were well-protected,” she said. Guard units escorted the delegation in front and behind their vehicles, and Apache helicopters flew overhead. Their convoy had to stop so troops could investigate a box in the road. Although Gen. Bennett Landreneu of the Louisiana National Guard traveled to Washington, D.C., with Blanco, he did not accompany her to Iraq (but a reporter did). Despite “heated rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war in the presidential campaign,” Blanco downplayed any political significance to her visit, although she thought the situation she saw was not so dire that it would hurt President George W. Bush in the election. (The Times-Picayune, Feb. 11, 2004)

Feb. 17-18, 2004:

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., had a bumpy landing in Baghdad because of a series of recent attacks on American aircraft. She pointed out that a Monroe County soldier was part of the patrol for the delegation. (Charleston Daily Mail, Feb. 18, 2004)

June 2004:

Sens. Bob Bennett, Bill Frist, R-Tenn, and John Ensign, R-Nev., … L. Paul Bremer — the top U.S. administrator in Iraq — and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi … sat in on briefings … The senators donned flak jackets for helicopter rides and rode with military pilots whose planes had drawn fire months before. Bennett said he was not concerned for his safety and left feeling that things were going fine in Iraq. (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)

Sept. 16-19, 2004:

Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., who couldn’t disclose details of the trip “for security reasons,” said he wasn’t worried about his safety in Iraq. “I feel good,” he said. “There have been a number of delegations go over there. They keep them small.” They expected to travel on military aircraft and have “very tight security.” (Redding Record Searchlight, Sept. 14, 2004) However, continued violence kept the delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time visiting Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah in Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., said he was disappointed that the threat of snipers, roadside bombs and other dangers kept his delegation from mingling with Iraqis. (Erie Times-News, Sept. 22, 2004)

December 2004:

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., will head to Iraq later this week. Biden was not optimistic about Iraq and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Jordan because that was “the only place where he can meet safely with the Sunni leadership,” Biden said. Regarding visiting Iraq, he said it was vital to see the situation in person and meet with troops face-to-face. (The News Journal, Dec. 2, 2004)

Dec. 21-22, 2005:

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., was part of a six-member delegation that spent two days in Iraq after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Even though Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana, and about 3,000 Louisiana residents needed his help dealing with FEMA, Boustany wanted personal experience in Iraq. He had been pushing to make the roster of congressional delegations for several months. (The Advocate, Nov. 29, 2005)

January 2007:

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., … boarded another C-130 to head into Iraq. … getting fitted out with a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket gave this flight a different feel. … We arrived at the international zone safely, though even inside the zone, we have to travel by convoy. … went immediately to a meeting with General Raymond Odierno, who is the commander of the Multi-National Corps, Iraq. We had a frank discussion about the need to improve things in Iraq quickly. The general told me he believes things can turn around in Baghdad, but I reminded him that we do not have much time to wait. … lunch with Ambassador Khalilzad and Multinational Forces-Iraq commander General Casey. Here again, we had a frank discussion about the difficult situation in Iraq … four consecutive meetings with Iraqi officials, including a deputy president, a deputy prime minister, the minister of defense and the national security adviser … met with Prime Minister Maliki. We had a very good and frank discussion about the violence in his country and the political situation in the United States.

Posted by Becky @ 3:22 pm | 1 Comment  

Covering the war, part 6

July 28, 2007 | Death,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism

The Wall Street Journal published “General Petraeus Needs Time,” a commentary by Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the U.S. president and director of strategic initiatives, today. In the article, Wehner wonders why “some critics of the war are unwilling to hear good news of any sort” coming from Iraq.

Yeah, everyone is tired of the war, he says, which has been full of mistakes, misjudgments and 3,600 deaths of American troops. But, hey, that’s the nature of war, he says. Besides, Baghdad is returning to normal, he argues, with “soccer leagues, amusement parks and vibrant market places.”

To emphasize that point, the above photograph of a soccer fan celebrating Iraq’s win over Vietnam in the Asian Cup on July 21, ran with the article. (Photo credit: AP/Khalid Mohammed)

But what about the celebrations of Iraq’s win over South Korea on July 25? The ones that turned tragic with two suicide bombings that killed 50 people and injured 130 in Baghdad?

I guess running a photograph of that might have messed up the whole point of the article.

Update: In other news, Iraqi leaders apparently don’t want to give Petraeus more time, and the prime minister has asked George W. Bush to remove the general.

Posted by Becky @ 2:41 pm | Comments  


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