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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/07/2015 09:43:04

Good Morning. Back to a regular schedule.

Today is our 383rd day back in Iraq.

There have been no new American casualties.

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 625, 286, 350, 000 .00

It's actually been fairly quiet, so we're getting towards the bottom of my barrel of stories. Some of these are older, but hopefully still relevant.

We'll start with the big question - was it even worth it for us to get involved in Iraq in the first place?

For years, Hamid Menhel has trudged through a graveyard in central Baghdad almost every day to tend to one of its few well-maintained tombs. Surrounded by shrubs and a small metal fence, it is the burial site of Gertrude Bell, the British diplomat and explorer whose role in the region a century ago helped enshrine Iraq’s modern state.

The cemetery is hemmed between churches, mosques, government buildings and roads choked with cars on the south bank of the Tigris river, which has been Baghdad’s lifeblood for 3,000 years, but has more recently become a dividing line.

The fortified government district known as the Green Zone stands on its northern banks. Here the business of navigating Iraq through its latest crisis, the battle against Islamic State (Isis), is directed from a safe, insular enclave of Saddam-era palaces and embassies. The rest of the city gets by on its wits.

Iraq’s officials claim that the war is existential and that to win it will preserve the very boundaries that Bell advocated in 1921 after the demise of the Ottoman empire. From his vantage point across the river though, Hamid, 37, believes that much of what has happened in Iraq since – and particularly the current tumult – suggeststhe country Bell envisaged doesn’t exist any more. And if it does, it may no longer be worth fighting for.

“We can blame empire, occupation, the Americans, Miss Bell, Iran, anyone we want,” Hamid said, standing on a thin crust of dirt surrounded by tombstones that teeter into collapsed graves. “But the reality is that people here don’t want to live together. Why else would we all behave like animals?

“Look around. No electricity, no security, no future. If I want water for the ground here, I have to beg the British embassy for it. The country is finished.”

A year into the war against Isis, and more than 12 years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, other Iraqis are facing personal reckonings about their place within a nation in a perpetual search for identity. Across the country, apparently endless dysfunction has led many to retreat to groupings that they feel more confident in – tribes, clan and sects.

“It was OK when there was security,” said Khalil al-Khater, a refugee from the northern town of Tal Afar, who has spent more than a year in a shack near the Shia city of Najaf. “As long as we were safe, we could forget about the rest of the country not working. Now the army has scattered like leaves on the wind, and Iraq has split into three parts.”

The next war may already be in the offing - seems like no matter what we do, there's always going to be ideological differences between us and Mother Russia...so naturally we're sending tanks. Almost 25 years since the end of the Cold War and it seems to be heating up again...if that's such a thing.

The U.S. military will be sending dozens of tanks, Bradley armored fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers to allied countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe in response to Russian actions in the Ukraine, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday.

The equipment, enough to arm one combat brigade, will be positioned in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland, Carter announced at a press conference with U.S. allies in Estonia.

Carter said the equipment will be moved around Europe for training and exercises.

The U.S. defense chief also said Washington and its NATO allies will be boosting cyber defense efforts.

"We must prepare NATO and our allies for cyber challenges, particularly from Russia," Carter said in prepared remarks.

Carter's announcement comes during a week-long tour of Europe.

"We need to explain to those who doubt the value of our NATO commitments that the security of Europe is vital to everything else we hold dear," Carter said at a press event with his German counterpart Monday.

While Carter won't be visiting Russia on this trip, Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence looms over the tour's discussions.

"One of [Putin's] stated views is a longing for the past and that's where we have a different perspective on the world and even on Russia's future," he told reporters en route to Germany, in response to a question about whether Putin is a rational actor. "We'd like to see us all moving forward, Europe moving forward, and that does not seem to be his stated perspective."

Carter also addressed comments Putin made last week, announcing the addition of 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles to Russia's nuclear arsenal, a move Carter said reflected "posturing" on the Russian leader's part.

"Nuclear weapons are not something that should be the subject of loose rhetoric by world leadership," Carter said. "We all understand the gravity of nuclear dangers. We all understand that Russia is a long established nuclear power. There is no need for Vladimir Putin to make that point."

And as long as we're talking about our "next war", maybe you've heard about a wee building project that China has undertaken in recent weeks? Unfortunately, it's taking place on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which has long been a point of dispute and contention between China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Phillippines, all of whom have claimed the islands. The islands themselves have no actual population except for tenuous military facilities, so whoever has the most is vying to make a claim and gain influence over a vast swath of the Pacific...and all the resources contained therein.

China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach on Tuesday and announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing's maritime ambitions.

In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country's cabinet, China vowed to increase its "open seas protection", switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours who take "provocative actions" on its reefs and islands.

China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.

China claims most of the South China Sea and criticised Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.

A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged Beijing "to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. view that China’s reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the South China Sea security situation "critically important" to U.S. national security and the global economy and said Washington was committed to working with other Asia-Pacific states to protect the free flow of commerce there.

While also declining to comment on the content of China's policy paper, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was "a step in the right direction" in terms of transparency and "exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for" in that respect.

China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China's reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.

"From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference," he told reporters.

Some countries with "ulterior motives" had unfairly characterized China's military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take "necessary measures" to respond.

"Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs. A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China," the strategy paper said in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.

Someday, maybe....we'll all grow up.

22 comments (Latest Comment: 07/07/2015 23:34:05 by TriSec)
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