Video: Is the U.S. occupation of Iraq really over?

Alternate Focus: With the departure of the last American soldier from Iraq, a bloody and expensive adventure ends—not with a bang, but with a whimper. As the Iraq War passes into history, Raed Jarrar, Tom Hayden, Nadia Keilani, and Johan Galtung comment on the lessons learned from this nine-year event, and debate whether the war and occupation are really over.

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For U.S. marines, killing civilians was ‘a cost of doing business’ in Iraq

The New York Times reports: One by one, the Marines sat down, swore to tell the truth and began to give secret interviews discussing one of the most horrific episodes of America’s time in Iraq: the 2005 massacre by Marines of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha.

“I mean, whether it’s a result of our action or other action, you know, discovering 20 bodies, throats slit, 20 bodies, you know, beheaded, 20 bodies here, 20 bodies there,” Col. Thomas Cariker, a commander in Anbar Province at the time, said to investigators as he described the chaos of Iraq. At times, he said, deaths were caused by “grenade attacks on a checkpoint and, you know, collateral with civilians.”

The 400 pages of interrogations, once closely guarded as secrets of war, were supposed to have been destroyed as the last American troops prepare to leave Iraq. Instead, they were discovered along with reams of other classified documents, including military maps showing helicopter routes and radar capabilities, by a reporter for The New York Times at a junkyard outside Baghdad. An attendant was burning them as fuel to cook a dinner of smoked carp.

The documents — many marked secret — form part of the military’s own internal investigation, and confirm much of what happened at Haditha, a Euphrates River town where Marines killed 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair, women and children, some just toddlers.

Haditha became a defining moment of the war, helping cement an enduring Iraqi distrust of the United States and a resentment that not a single Marine was ever prosecuted. That is one of the main reasons that all American combat troops are leaving by the weekend.

But the accounts are just as striking for what they reveal about the extraordinary strains on the soldiers who were assigned here, their frustrations and their frequently painful encounters with a population they did not understand. In their own words, the report documents the dehumanizing nature of this war, where Marines came to view 20 dead civilians as not “remarkable,” but as routine.

Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar Province, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.”

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U.S. pullout from Iraq continues

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Maliki confirms US troops must leave Iraq by end of 2011

The Associated Press reports:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that an agreement requiring U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011 will stand because Iraqi forces are capable of taking care of the country’s security.

The comments are his first on the subject since being tasked with forming a new government after nearly nine months of political deadlock, and some of his strongest to date on what is expected to be a key issue facing the next government.

“The security agreement with what it included of dates and commitments will remain valid, and I do not feel the need for the presence of any other international forces to help Iraqis control the security situation,” al-Maliki told reporters during his first news conference since getting the formal request on Thursday to form the new government.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the renewed influence of Muqtada al Sadr.

In recent months, Maliki’s government has freed hundreds of controversial members of the Shiite Muslim cleric’s Mahdi Army and handed security positions to veteran commanders of the militia, which was blamed for some of the most disturbing violence in the country’s civil war and insurgency against U.S. forces.

The Mahdi Army has also in effect seized control of cellblocks at one of Iraq’s largest detention facilities, Taji prison. Within months of the U.S. hand-over of the prison in March, Mahdi Army detainees were giving orders to guards who were either loyal to or intimidated by them, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.

It marks a remarkable return to prominence for Sadr, an Iranian-backed Shiite cleric who stunned his followers in September when he delivered pivotal parliamentary votes to Maliki that helped him stay in power.

Senior Sadr supporters are being brought into the Interior Ministry at high-level positions, according to Mahdi Army members and Iraqi officers. One Sadr commander who is being given the rank of brigadier general said he knew of 50 others who were being recruited for officers’ positions.

The group has secured political gains also. Last week, the Sadr camp won the deputy speaker position in parliament, defeating Maliki’s candidate, and is said to be vying for the post of deputy prime minister too.

The Sadr movement’s prominence may make it harder for the United States to wield its waning influence in Iraq, including securing an agreement allowing it to keep forces in Iraq after the end of 2011, when the last U.S. troops are scheduled to leave.

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Torture and terrorism

One of the strange aspects relating to conspiracy theories concerning 9/11 is that they unwittingly obscure something even worse: that the US government foments terrorism not by design but by neglect; that its policies have had a direct and instrumental role in creating terrorists not simply by providing individuals and groups with an ideological pretext for engaging in terrorism but much more specifically by creating the conditions an individual’s political opposition to America’s actions would shift to unrestrained violent opposition.

The key which often unlocks the terrorist’s capacity for violence is his experience of being subject to violence through torture.

Chris Zambelis writes:

There is ample evidence that a number of prominent militants — including al-Qaeda deputy commander Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — endured systematic torture at the hands of the Egyptian and Jordanian authorities, respectively. Many observers believe that their turn toward extreme radicalism represented as much an attempt to exact revenge against their tormentors and, by extension, the United States, as it was about fulfilling an ideology. Those who knew Zawahiri and can relate to his experience believe that his behavior today is greatly influenced by his pursuit of personal redemption to compensate for divulging information about his associates after breaking down amid brutal torture sessions during his imprisonment in the early 1980s. For radical Islamists and their sympathizers, U.S. economic, military, and diplomatic support for regimes that engage in this kind of activity against their own citizens vindicates al-Qaeda’s claims of the existence of a U.S.-led plot to attack Muslims and undermine Islam. In al-Qaeda’s view, these circumstances require that Muslims organize and take up arms in self-defense against the United States and its allies in the region.

The latest revelations provided by Wikileaks show how the war in Iraq — the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism — became not simply a terrorist training ground, but a cauldron in which terrorists could be forged.

FRAGO 242: PROVIDED THE INITIAL REPORT CONFIRMS U.S. FORCES WERE NOT INVOLVED IN THE DETAINEE ABUSE, NO FURTHER INVESTIGATION WILL BE CONDUCTED UNLESS DIRECTED BY HHQ. JUNE 26, 2004

The Guardian reports:

A grim picture of the US and Britain’s legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.

Almost 400,000 secret US army field reports have been passed to the Guardian and a number of other international media organisations via the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The electronic archive is believed to emanate from the same dissident US army intelligence analyst who earlier this year is alleged to have leaked a smaller tranche of 90,000 logs chronicling bloody encounters and civilian killings in the Afghan war.

The new logs detail how:

• US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.

• A US helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.

• More than 15,000 civilians died in previously unknown incidents. US and UK officials have insisted that no official record of civilian casualties exists but the logs record 66,081 non-combatant deaths out of a total of 109,000 fatalities.

The Pentagon might hide behind claims that it neither authorized nor condoned violence used by Iraqi authorities on Iraqi detainees, but the difference between being an innocent bystander and being complicit consists in whether one has the power to intervene. The US military’s hands were not tied. As the occupying power it had both the means, the legal authority and the legal responsibility to stop torture in Iraq. It’s failure to do so was a matter of choice.

Will the latest revelations from Wikileaks be of any political consequence? I seriously doubt it, given that we now have a president dedicated not only to refusing to look back but also to perpetuating most of the policies instituted by his predecessor.

For more information on the documents released by Wikileaks, see The Guardian‘s Iraq war logs page.

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Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater alleged Sunday that they were coerced into reaching settlements, and they demanded that the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.

The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file for bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of the firm’s assets. This would be their last chance to get any compensation, the victims said they were told.

When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed by a U.S. federal judge on Dec. 31, the Iraqis concluded that they had been duped and that Blackwater, now called Xe, was not in the kind of legal and financial trouble they had been led to believe. [continued...]

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Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

Cars breezed by the trimmed green hedges and flowers of Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on Friday, while pedestrians strolled past billboards of smiling men and women promoting national elections. Little trace was left of the September 2007 day when Blackwater security guards opened fire on the crowded intersection, killing 17 civilians.

On Thursday, a judge in a U.S. federal court had thrown out the criminal prosecution of five Blackwater guards involved in the shootings. The consequences of that decision were still being felt Friday by survivors of the attack, politicians and ordinary Iraqis, who expressed feelings of helplessness at the hands of the United States.

The Iraqi government vowed to seek an appeal. Victims and others said they doubted they would ever see justice, convinced the American government considers their blood cheap.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled that prosecutors of the five security guards had wrongly relied on statements the defendants made to State Department investigators under the promise of immunity. The guards, who were facing counts of manslaughter and firearms violations, maintained they opened fire in response to an attack. Iraqis dispute that. [continued...]

Iraq to sue ex-Blackwater guards

Iraq said Friday that it will file a lawsuit against five Blackwater security guards cleared of manslaughter charges in the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, an act a government official called murder.

The Iraqi government also will ask the U.S. Justice Department to appeal a federal judge’s “unfair and unacceptable” dismissal of the charges Thursday, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

An Iraqi man wounded in the 2007 incident also voiced his anger Friday, saying U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina’s dismissal of the charges showed “disregard for Iraqi blood.” [continued...]

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‘People woke up, and they were gone’

‘People woke up, and they were gone’

The U.S. military called it shock and awe, and it began on March 21, 2003 — 8:09 p.m., to be exact. It concluded here with a sigh. No one quite remembers when the Americans withdrew from Forward Operating Base Summers.

“One morning they left, and they never came back,” said Osama Majid, a vendor on the road to the base, as he hovered over his shelves of Iranian and Turkish packaged sweets. “People woke up, and they were gone.”

Occupations probably never really end. Even after the last of the 115,000 U.S. soldiers leave, this one will live on in the national psyche, in the bearing of Iraq’s military, in cowboy boots, tattoos and, of course, language. “Badjat,” demand Iraqi sentries at Summers’ gates, waiting for a visitor’s identity card. Sometimes occupations leave behind the banal.

Summers is like an archaeological dig.

Perched 30 miles southeast of Baghdad, the former U.S. base — known before the Americans arrived and after they departed as Suwayrah Airport — often strikes the pose of a post-apocalyptic outcast, the posture of much of the country. The land around it is austere, possessed of beauty only at the gloaming, when loneliness becomes serene. Its outskirts were looted of everything years ago, down to the tan brick that once lined buildings’ walls. The compound itself feels forlorn and deserted, the doors of its buildings barricaded by plywood, its windows sealed by cinder block. [continued...]

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General says Iraq troop reductions may quicken

General says Iraq troop reductions may quicken

The senior American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he could reduce American forces to 50,000 troops even before the end of next summer if the expected January elections in Iraq went smoothly.

That could ease the strain across the American armed forces and free up extra combat units for duty in the Afghanistan war, which has become a priority for the Obama administration.

In an interview at the Pentagon, the commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said he had already ordered some service members and equipment diverted from the Iraq mission to Afghanistan, in particular surveillance aircraft and units known as “combat enablers,” which include engineers for clearing roadside bombs and military police officers for training Afghan forces. [continued...]

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Why I threw the shoe

Why I threw the shoe

I am free. But my country is still a prisoner of war. There has been a lot of talk about the action and about the person who took it, and about the hero and the heroic act, and the symbol and the symbolic act. But, simply, I answer: what compelled me to act is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.

Over recent years, more than a million martyrs have fallen by the bullets of the occupation and Iraq is now filled with more than five million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. Many millions are homeless inside and outside the country.

We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shia would pray with the Sunni in one line. And the Muslim would celebrate with the Christian the birthday of Christ. This despite the fact that we shared hunger under sanctions for more than a decade.

Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. But the invasion divided brother from brother, neighbour from neighbour. It turned our homes into funeral tents. [continued...]

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Murder, torture, sexual orientation and gender in Iraq

Murder, torture, sexual orientation and gender in Iraq

Iraqi militias are carrying out a spreading campaign of torture and murder against men suspected of homosexual conduct, or of not being “manly” enough, and Iraq authorities have done nothing to stop the killing, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch called on Iraq’s government to act urgently to rein in militia abuses, punish the perpetrators, and stop a new resurgence of violence that threatens all Iraqis’ safety.

The 67-page report, “‘They Want Us Exterminated’: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq,” documents a wide-reaching campaign of extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, and torture of gay men that began in early 2009. The killings began in the vast Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, a stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, and spread to many cities across Iraq. Mahdi Army spokesmen have promoted fears about the “third sex” and the “feminization” of Iraq men, and suggested that militia action was the remedy. Some people told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi security forces have colluded and joined in the killing. [continued...]

Iraq may hold vote on U.S. withdrawal

US troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country’s north.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.

The Maliki government’s announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here. [continued...]

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The case for leaving Iraq – now

The case for leaving Iraq – now

Although every day in Iraq repeats the endless spiral of bombs in crowded bazaars and mosques — each fueling demands for retribution — things are slowly getting better. Last month, the number of violent deaths in Iraq fell to 275, down from 437 in June. And that’s a good sign for the security prospects following the redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq’s urban areas. In Baghdad, the violence has ebbed to the point that the Iraqi government, whose forces are now responsible for security, this week announced that over the next 40 days, it will tear down the razor-wire-topped blast walls that had for years divided the capital into a collection of fortified, warring Sunni and Shi’ite fiefdoms.

With the level of violence having been tamped down to a degree manageable by Iraqi forces, and with Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic political divisions having become an apparently intractable feature of post-Saddam political life that no amount of U.S. cajoling appears likely to resolve, this may be as good as it gets in Iraq. And if so, why should American soldiers hang around until 2011 in a war costing America in the region of $12 billion a month, and whose U.S. casualty count is nearing 4,500 dead and 30,000 wounded? [continued...]

Ex-employees claim Blackwater pimped out young Iraqi girls

Since the revelation earlier this week of allegations by two former employees of security firm Blackwater that its owner was complicit in murder in order to cover up the deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians, explosive charges have continued to emerge.

Perhaps the most shocking of those charges — quoted by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann on Thursday from the employees’ sworn declarations — is that Blackwater was guilty of using child prostitutes at its compound in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and that owner Erik Prince knew of this activity and did nothing to stop it. [continued...]

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Blackwater founder implicated in murder

Blackwater founder implicated in murder

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting “illegal” or “unlawful” weapons into the country on Prince’s private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety. [continued...]

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Iranian dissidents’ fate in Iraq shows limits of U.S. sway

Iranian dissidents’ fate in Iraq shows limits of U.S. sway

Last September, Gen. David H. Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad that the United States had been assured by the Iraqi government that the 3,400 Iranian dissidents in a camp in eastern Iraq would continue to be protected after the Americans turned over responsibility for the camp to Iraqi forces.

Last week’s bloody melee between Iraqi police officers and the residents of the camp has not only raised fresh doubts in Washington about the worth of these assurances, but has also exposed just how little leverage American officials now have in a country they largely controlled for almost six years.

It has also forced the Obama administration to confront some of the thorny issues that bedeviled its predecessor: how to prevent Iraq from falling deeper under Tehran’s influence, and how to fashion a tough Iran policy amid delicate negotiations to dismantle the country’s burgeoning nuclear program. [continued...]

Iraqis fear latest bombings signal return of al Qaida in Iraq

Bombings at five Shiite Muslim mosques killed 29 worshippers Friday in a series of attacks that Iraqi army and police officers are interpreting as a sign that insurgents are determined to destabilize the country now that American forces have withdrawn from Iraqi cities and towns.

“You will see them attempting to start the sectarian violence again,” said a high-ranking Iraqi army officer who commands a unit in western Baghdad. He asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Iraqi army and police officers told McClatchy that the pattern of attacks against the armed forces and civilians resembles the tactics that the extremist Sunni group al Qaida in Iraq used before 2006. The increase in car bombs, roadside bombs and death threats indicates that the Islamic extremist group is attempting to restore ground it lost during the “surge” of American forces in 2008, the officers said. [continued...]

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It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

It’s time for the US to declare victory and go home

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed. [continued...]

Iraqi raid poses problem for U.S.

Violent clashes continued for a second day Wednesday between Iraqi troops and members of an Iranian opposition group whose camp the Iraqis stormed Tuesday, presenting the first major dilemma for the U.S. government since Iraq proclaimed its sovereignty a month ago.

At least eight Iranians have been killed and 400 wounded since Tuesday, when hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers in riot gear plowed into Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, using Humvees donated by the U.S. military, according to group leaders and Abdul Nasir al-Mahdawi, the governor of Diyala province.

Camp residents described the day’s events as a massacre and the aftermath as a tense stalemate. [continued...]

Iraq in throes of environmental catastrophe, experts say

You wake up in the morning to find your nostrils clogged. Houses and trees have vanished beneath a choking brown smog. A hot wind blasts fine particles through doors and windows, coating everything in sight and imparting an eerie orange glow.

Dust storms are a routine experience in Iraq, but lately they’ve become a whole lot more common.

“Now it seems we have dust storms nearly every day,” said Raed Hussein, 31, an antiques dealer who had to rush his 5-year-old son to a hospital during a recent squall because the boy couldn’t breathe. “We suffer from lack of electricity, we suffer from explosions, and now we are suffering even more because of this terrible dust.

“It must be a punishment from God,” he added, offering a view widely held among Iraqis seeking to explain their apocalyptic weather of late. “I think God is angry with the deeds of the Iraqi people.”

The reality is probably scarier. Iraq is in the throes of what some officials are calling an environmental catastrophe, and the increased frequency of dust storms is only the most visible manifestation. [continued...]

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After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

After Kurdish vote, Talabani pledges to rebuild party

Facing what could prove a turning point in tumultuous Kurdish politics, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani vowed Tuesday that he would lead the revival of his party after a surprisingly successful challenge by opponents in last week’s election led some to speculate that it might be the beginning of the party’s end.

In an interview, Talabani, the 75-year-old politician and former guerrilla who founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) more than 30 years ago, sought to cast the election results in the best light. But the success of the Change list, led by former Talabani colleagues , against an alliance of the PUK and the other leading Kurdish party clearly surprised him.

More than a contest among parochial groups in a relatively quiet region, the struggle for political power in the Kurdish north could have sweeping repercussions for Iraq’s mercurial politics. The alliance between Talabani’s party and Kurdish President Massoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has held for years, though no one has really forgotten the civil war they fought in the 1990s. Their claim to represent Kurdish consensus is crucial, too, in negotiations with Baghdad over today’s most pressing issues: a law to share Iraq’s oil revenue and a resolution to the disputed border between Iraq’s Arab and Kurdish regions. [continued...]

Iraq force soon to be a coalition of one

Commanders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, as the American-led coalition is formally called, have a looming nomenclature problem.

Two days from now, there will no longer be any other nations with troops in Iraq — no “multi” in the Multi-National Force. As Iraqi forces have increasingly taken the lead, the United States is the last of the “coalition of the willing” that the Bush administration first brought together in 2003.

That is partly because the Iraqi Parliament left suddenly for summer recess without voting to extend an agreement for the British military to keep a residual training force of 100 soldiers in Iraq. As a result, those troops must withdraw to Kuwait by Friday, according to a British diplomat, who declined to be identified in keeping with his government’s practice.

As for the other two small remnants of the coalition, the Romanians and Australians, the Australians will be gone by July 31, too, and the Romanians left last Thursday, according to the Romanian chargé d’affaires, Cristian Voicu. NATO will keep a small training presence in Iraq, but its troops were never considered part of the Multi-National Force because of opposition to the war from many NATO countries. [continued...]

Gates: Some US troops may be leaving Iraq early

The United States is considering speeding up its withdrawal from Iraq because of the sustained drop in violence there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday following discussions with his top commanders in the war.

“I think there’s at least some chance of a modest acceleration,” this year, Gates said.

It was the first suggestion that the Obama administration might rethink its difficult choice to leave a heavy fighting force in Iraq long past the election of an American president who opposed the war. [continued...]

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