Today is our 2,638th day in Iraq, and our 3,166th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do, with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars...courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4402
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4263
Since Capture of Saddam (12/13/03): 3941
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3543
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 174
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,093
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 712
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,457
Journalists - Iraq: 338
Academics Killed - Iraq: 437
We find this morning's cost of war
rolling on, passing through: $ 1, 003, 316, 000, 000 .00
There's dozens of things I could write about today...the internets have been busy of late. But today, we'll take a look at what some Iraqi civilians have been going through. They too have survived combat, and many of them face the same challenges that our troops are....and it's at our hands.
Part of war is forced migration; from when Hannibal crossed the Alps, when the Germans smashed through the Ardennes, when the US went into Baghdad....people are on the move away from the war zone to places of perceived safety. But what do they leave behind?
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Nahla and her pharmacist husband Malik were prospering in the Shi'ite city of Kerbala, despite the sectarian and criminal violence unleashed by the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. They even bought a new house.
Then one day in 2006, Usama, the eldest of their five children, stepped out to buy a sandwich. He never came back.
A kidnap gang demanded a ransom of 12 million Iraqi dinars (6,800 pounds). Nahla and Malik sold their home and paid up, but 12-year-old Usama still didn't come back. A week later his naked, mangled body was found in the desert.
Nahla, whose surname is withheld to avoid possible danger to relatives in Iraq, talked as she sat on a plastic mat over the concrete floor of a flat in the poor Damascus area of Sayyida Zeinab, where the family settled after fleeing Iraq in 2008.
"I die a hundred times a day, my husband too," she wept. "But we have to think of the children and their future. Our only hope is resettlement. We can't go back to Iraq."
Nahla's family are among 165,000 Iraqi refugees currently registered by the United Nations refugee agency in Syria, which also hosts hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis in exile.
At the height of Iraq's sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07, U.N. agencies estimated that two million Iraqis had fled abroad and more than two million had moved to other parts of the country.
The plight of uprooted Iraqis like Nahla's family no longer makes headlines, but no end to the refugee crisis is in sight.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says only 100,000 refugees are among the 500,000 Iraqis who have returned to their homes. Iraq still has 1.5 million internally displaced people, a third of them living in squalid settlements or camps.
"This crisis is about the dignity of the people more than their survival -- their loss of hope, dignity and confidence in their future," UNHCR representative Renata Dubini told Reuters.
"They are dying inside."
Dubini said Syria had pursued generous policies in allowing Iraqis in and temporarily protecting them, despite the strain the refugees imposed on its own health and education services.
"We facilitate returns," she said. "But we have not entered the phase of promoting voluntary repatriation because it's still volatile in Iraq, with a death toll of at least 1,000 a month."
Heading home is not an option for Nahla, whose trauma is still raw despite psychiatric support funded by UNHCR.
In a black robe, with a green headscarf framing her soft, pale face, she wipes away tears as she pulls legal documents, newspaper clippings and medical reports from a faded folder, along with family photos of Usama -- and one of his body.
Animals had gnawed his face, so his parents only recognised him by his clothes and a scar on his chest. A post-mortem found the boy had been tortured, raped and mutilated by his captors.
There is also a photograph of Nahla's brother-in-law, who was killed later as the family pursued a case against the kidnappers, three of whom were caught and are now on death row.
It was not clear if they had sectarian as well as criminal motives in targeting Nahla and Malik, a Sunni-Shi'ite couple.
"I lost everything. My son, my brother-in-law and my house," said the 38-year-old woman, who is still fearful about the safety of her unemployed husband and children, even in Damascus.
Her family is among 68,000 vulnerable Iraqis who get UNHCR help with food, health care or accommodation in Syria, which hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees, followed by Jordan.
"The Syrians have been good to us," Nahla said. "Sometimes they give us vegetables for free or let us skip rent payments."
Speaking of civilians, there's an even smaller subset of the population out there...the War Bride. Throughout our history, US troops have always returned from the front with wives...you will never change human nature. There were thousands of British, French, and even German and Japanese war brides brought to America in the wake of WWII. But what if you fall in love with an Iraqi?
Marriage, as we know, can be a complicated undertaking. All the more so when international complexities and military rules are thrown in.
Here now, just in time for Memorial Day, is the saga of Sgt. Bloom, 41, and 24-year-old Zee, who asked that I not use her last name because of concerns about her family's safety in Iraq.
Bloom, who grew up in Highland Park, began pasting American flag bumper stickers on his car after the attacks of Sept. 11. Even though he felt misled by the original justification for war, he believed some good could be accomplished in Iraq. So in 2003 he suited up with the U.S. Army Reserves, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion.
Bloom and his unit landed in Baghdad in June 2005 to build schools and soccer fields and help deliver healthcare to children. It was a dangerous time, he said, with plenty of casualties.
"You're getting up every day wondering if these are the clothes you're going to die in," said Bloom, a former freelance journalist who now works in public relations for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
He often videotaped his excursions, and toward the end of his deployment, Bloom asked a translator if she would help him translate interviews. That would be Zee.
There was no romance, the two now say, even though Bloom had feelings. She was beautiful, she supported the U.S. mission and risked her life to support it, using her pay to buy a home for her family. Zee had served in the Iraqi National Guard, which was extremely rare for women, and worked as a medic. She stayed on the U.S. base each night instead of going home; others had been followed and killed for being collaborators.
Bloom's unit shipped back home in 2006 without him ever confessing his feelings for Zee, other than to promise he'd see her again. Back home, he couldn't get her out of his head. He called as often as possible, and five months into it, Bloom told Zee he loved her.
"I wasn't really shocked," says Zee, who told him she loved him, too.
It took a full year for the paperwork to come through so they could meet in Turkey and marry; then Zee had to go back to Iraq and wait, agonizingly, for a visa to join Bloom in Los Angeles. But that wasn't their only problem.
"Don't you realize," Bloom's commander asked, "that you married a woman from a country we're at war with?"
No he hadn't, Bloom insisted. Saddam was gone and the war was against terrorists, not Iraq.
But Bloom was accused of failing to get clearance for the trip to Turkey. An investigating officer dug way back into his file and in early 2008, Bloom was accused of several infractions unrelated to his marriage, including the charge that he had skipped a training assignment.
Bloom denied any wrongdoing and suspected that in truth, the military was out to get him for marrying Zee. The investigator wrote in a report that although the marriage was not a violation of Army regulation, "that does not mean that his actions do not have serious consequences."
"His marriage makes him potentially vulnerable to coercion, influence or pressure that may cause conduct contrary to the national interest," the investigator added, saying that Zee and soldiers working with her could be at risk if she were targeted.
I suppose the point today is that life goes on...things happen...civilians and soldiers will do whatever it is that men and women do to try to establish some kind of normal life.
Even if we are at war with Eastasia, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.