Today is our 1,868th day in Iraq.
We'll start as we always do, with the latest casualty figures, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4056
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 3917
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3595
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3197
Since Election (1/31/05): 2619
Other Coalition Troops: 309
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 494
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 515, 290, 925, 000 .00
I've got an interesting first-hand account of Baghdad that comes to us via our friends at IAVA. I'm skipping their website in favor of the original source today, I'm sure Paul won't mind. In any case, New York artist Steve Mumford
was originally embedded with the troops in 2003...he's been back several times since.
I am back in Iraq for part of April and May to continue recording the war through drawing. Iím going to Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, to visit the U. S. militaryís COPs, or Combat Outposts, which have been a key part of the tactics of the surge: platoon-sized units living within the cities, backing up and working closely with Iraqi army and police. The tedious part is getting there.
At Kuwaiti customs I get a disconcerting dose of Middle Eastern bureaucracy: what should be a 20-minute job of stamping passports with visas yawns into a chasm of several hours, while the half dozen young Kuwaiti officials stare distractedly at their cell phones, pretend to take notes, and occasionally break into random conversation with one another. The stack of passports sits, barely moving. Children whine while mothers attend to them, and men look hopelessly at nothing, waiting for an official to contemptuously announce a name in a barely audible voice.
At Camp Ali al-Salem in Kuwait I gather my equipment for a nighttime flight to Baghdad in one of the cavernous halls where soldiers wait for planes to Iraq and Afghanistan. Whole companies of soldiers are sprawled out on the ground surrounded by their gear, forming vast landscapes of packs and bodies, everything covered in digital gray-green cammo. Platoons form lines in front of signs with destinations printed in large letters; the eerie light casts dramatic shadows. Despite my tiredness I wish that I could draw these scenes, but Iíve been told unequivocally that itís impossible. I read, suck on Halls cough drops, and wait.
When I finally arrive in the Green Zone, nothing looks much different. Over the last week rockets and mortars have been falling thick and fast, mostly from Sadr City, and everyone seems to have stories to tell. Several people died, including a colonel who was out jogging one morning. Itís quiet now, with only one air raid siren all day.
Thereís a lot more graffiti in the bathrooms and port-a-johns than before, but it doesnít differ much from graffiti in any public restroom. With one exception: generations of Chuck Norris jokes, counter-jokes and commentary. Some notable examples:
Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas.
Chuck Norris has a nightlight. Not because heís afraid of the dark but because the dark is afraid of Chuck Norris.
Chuck Norris doesnít read. He just stares at a book until it tells him what he wants to know.
When Chuck Norris pees he clogs the toilet.
The Peruvian guards manning the checkpoints are an enthusiastic audience while Iím drawing and I chat with them in my frayed Spanish. A young woman walks up speaking Spanish and I ask her if sheís from Peru.
"Oh no -- Iím Iraqi, from up North, near Mosul." I attempt to segue to the time of the Moors, when Spaniards mixed with Arabs but my Spanish isnít nearly up to the task; she interrupts, "These Peruvian guys are too ugly -- only the women are good looking!" The guards hoot with delight.
I could mistake some of the Peruvians for Arabs, although others have distinctly Incan features. They have an easy rapport with the Iraqi translators, but one of the soldiers tells me theyíre very racist towards the Nigerian soldiers stationed here. A Peruvian who has been here three years says none of his countrymen have been killed. "We say itís because heís [pointing towards the sky] a Latino!"
Much more at the link...
Since diplomacy in the Middle East is also a casualty of this war, it's fallen to Tufts University (Massachusetts) and the Crisis Management Initiative (Finland) to attempt to re-start the process. They've been having meetings in Helsinki
with the factions in Iraq. There's no word if "President" Bush has denounced the process, or if Hannity or Rush have called for anyone's passports to be suspended...
WASHINGTON - After a weekend of closed-door negotiations in Helsinki, a group of rival members of Iraq's parliament and tribal leaders are set to announce today that they will gather in Baghdad for the first time for a further round of talks that they hope will lay the foundation for peace in their troubled country.
"Progress has been made," Padraig O'Malley, the UMass-Boston professor and veteran peace activist who organized the meeting, said in a phone interview from the Finnish capital.
O'Malley said the participants agreed upon all but three of 16 broad principles, which he hopes the Iraqi Parliament will eventually endorse, laying the framework for negotiations to reconcile Iraq's warring parties and militias. He said the participants hoped that that their talks would lead to a detailed agreement on core issues that have plagued Iraq, including disarming militias associated with political parties, protecting the rights of minorities, and reducing corruption in government.
So far, the participants have declined to make details of their discussions public to avoid creating too much debate and acrimony in Iraq, O'Malley said. They are planning to announce their progress at a press conference at the Helsinki airport today before returning to Iraq.
The first meeting organized by O'Malley, held in September of 2007 at an undisclosed location in Helsinki, was kept secret because of security concerns and out of a desire to have participants freely discuss their views without the scrutiny of the media.
Participants at the weekend meeting included Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization, a Shi'ite group considered the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the most powerful Shi'ite parties, as well as Fouad Massom, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi Parliament's constitutional review committee, and Usama al-Tikrit, the leader of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic party and a former classmate of Saddam Hussein.
Four tribal sheiks - two Sunni and two Shi'ite - also attended.
One notable absence, however, was that of the representative from the movement loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. He had been scheduled to attend but called at the last minute to say he was unable to make the flight. As part of a crackdown ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, supporters of Sadr have been fighting US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City, his Baghdad stronghold, in a battle that has cost dozens of lives.
The weekend's Helsinki meeting was an exercise in unconventional diplomacy. Up until now, most of the reconciliation efforts have been organized by the Arab League, the US State Department, or the Iraqi government. This meeting was organized by O'Malley, the Institute of Global Leadership at Tufts, and the Crisis Management Initiative, a Finnish nongovernmental organization.
Lastly this morning...perhaps you've seen this ad
recently? (Thanks, Raine!)
Well, guess who doesn't like it?
The ad that the Democratic Party is airing about Sen. John McCain -- picturing him mouthing words about 100 years of U.S. troop deployment in Iraq -- is not only misleading, according to lawyers for the Republican National Committee, but also illegal.
The DNC ad pictures McCain responding to a question at a town-hall styled forum in January, where he was asked how long U.S. troops might be committed to Iraq. "Maybe 100.... that'd be fine with me,'' replies McCain, who maintains that he was speaking of a non-combatant role, simliar to the long post-war deployments of U.S. forces in Germany following World War II and in South Korea. The ad repeats those 100-year remarks with overlays of script: "Five years... $500 billion... over 4,000 dead.''
"As a legal matter,'' RNC chairman Mike Duncan said today, this is a "maliciously false'' campaign ad. "The advertisement in question falsely and maliciously'' quotes Sen. McCain as saying that extending the war in Iraq for 100 years would be fine with him, and places it in a context of images of combat. "Clearly this ad is just another attempt by the DNC to mischaracterize Sen. McCain's statements.''
Sean Cairncross, general counsel for the RNC, said that McCain had responded to a question about how long the U.S..might be in Iraq. He noted that McCain's comment about 100 years included a caveat that "as long as Americans are not being injured... harmed or killed.... It's fine with me.''
The RNC, calling on cable news networks and television stations to refrain from airing the ad, maintains that a party does not have the independent right to air an ad that a candidate has, and that it becomes the obligation of networks and stations to monitor the truthfulness of ads The party stopped short of threatening legal action, however.
The RNC also accuses the DNC of making an illegal coordinated contribution to the the Democratic candidates with this ad, but maintains that the main legal problem with the ad involves its willful misrepresentation of McCain. "This is a complaint about the facts that are being misrepresented in this ad,'' Cairncross said in a conference call with reporters. "Based on this being a deliberate falsehood. We are saying to the stations, 'You have an obligation.'''
Stay tuned for a DNC reply.
Well, the DNC must have hit awful close to the mark to get them all riled up like that, eh?