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Obama seeks $205 billion for Iraq, Afghan wars
By Tabassum Zakaria and Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama requested about $205 billion in war funding through the end of fiscal 2010 on Thursday, as he sought to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from Iraq and boost forces fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
Obama's first budget proposal asked for $75.5 billion through September, which would bring total war spending to $141.4 billion for the current fiscal year. Obama also requested a slightly smaller $130 billion to fund the wars for fiscal year 2010, which starts on October 1.
Obama asked Congress to increase the Pentagon's regular budget to $533.7 billion next year -- up 4 percent, or $20.4 billion, from its spending plan for the current year, drawn up under the Bush administration.
A key fact about the recent history of Iraq is absolutely critical to the nascent debate about Afghanistan: there was more to the Iraq "surge" than sending additional troops, so if folks are going to justify sending more troops to Afghanistan on the grounds that sending more troops "worked" in Iraq, we should be talking about the other elements of US policy in Iraq that changed after November 2006, not just about more troops.
Senate Democratic Leaders Concerned About Obama’s Iraq Plan
By Kate Phillips | NY Times
Even before they are briefed at the White House late this afternoon, Senate Democratic leaders expressed concerns over reports that President Obama’s proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq over a 19-month timeline would leave a residual force there of as many as 50,000 troops.
At a news briefing a few minutes ago, Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader from Nevada, indicated that he would be conveying his concerns to the president about the reported troop levels that would remain once the withdrawal deadline is met in August 2010. Mr. Reid said:
President Obama is about to order the beginning of the end of the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq. Or is he?
President Barack Obama said directly that he would be announcing “a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.” As far as it goes, that sounds good. This is an indication that President Obama is largely keeping to his campaign promises, and that's a hopeful sign, reflecting the power of the anti-war consensus in this country.
If this plan were actually a first step towards the unequivocal goal of a complete end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it would be better than good, it would be fabulous. But that would mean this withdrawal would be the first step towards a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops, pulling out of all the 150,000+ U.S.-paid foreign mercenaries and contractors, closing all the U.S. military bases, and ending all U.S. efforts to control Iraqi oil.
So far that is not on Obama's agenda.
Officials: Pentagon OKs media photos of war dead
PAULINE JELINEK/AP News
Defense and congressional officials say news organizations will be allowed to photograph the homecomings of America's war dead under a new Pentagon policy.
The officials say Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to allow photos of flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, if the families of casualties agree.
Gates planned to announce his decision later Thursday. The current ban was put in place by President George H.W. Bush.
Some critics have contended the government was trying to hide the human cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The government said Tuesday it would veto publication of minutes from ministerial discussions about the legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, immediately drawing accusations of a cover-up.
Anti-war campaigners believe the minutes may conceal damaging information about how then prime minister Tony Blair's government reached the decision to support the US-led invasion.
However, current Prime Minister Gordon Brown's administration fears publishing the minutes may hinder ministers' ability to speak freely at confidential weekly Cabinet meetings.
"Confidentiality serves to promote thorough decision-making," Justice Secretary Jack Straw told parliament's lower House of Commons.
"Disclosure of the Cabinet minutes in this case jeopardises that space for thought and debate at precisely the point where it has its greatest utility.
By Dave Lindorff
Barack Obama’s first address to Congress provided Americans with yet another example of competent speechmaking, and I suppose, given that we’ve just endured eight painful years of oratorical farce, being able to listen to your president without wincing is something.
The problem is that the way forward proposed by the president as laid out in this address was almost always half-hearted, wrong-headed or doomed.
Obama declared at the outset of his address that the economic crisis was the major issue confronting the country, and while one could argue that this crisis is merely a symptom of much bigger issues, like the nearly completed deindustrialization of the nation, the death grip of militarism, and the growing political power of corporations, one could also concede that there is an urgent need to deal with the deepening recession.
Release of Iraq war minutes vetoed
By Michael Savage, The Independent
Details of cabinet discussions held in the run-up to the Iraq war are to be kept secret after the Government decided to take the unprecedented step of vetoing their publication.
Campaigners had demanded to see the minutes of two meetings, on 13 and 17 March 2003, amid allegations that the Cabinet failed to discuss properly or challenge the decision to invade Iraq. The legality of the war was also discussed at the meetings.
The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, had ordered the release of the minutes, arguing that their publication was in the public interest. His decision was supported by an independent tribunal last month.
REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN URGING OBAMA TO HELP IRAQI REFUGEE
Washington D.C. - As President Obama works to stabilize Iraq, he must be sure to comprehensively address the Iraqi refugee crisis. Five million Iraqis have been uprooted by conflict, forced to leave everything behind. They have sought refuge within Iraq, Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries. They are running out of resources with little opportunity for employment; access to food, heath care, education and other essential services is extremely limited. The conditions for Iraqis to return home safely do not exist, and millions of Iraqi refugees are unlikely and unwilling to return to Iraq in the foreseeable future. The U.S. administration must lead international efforts to meet the long-term needs of displaced Iraqis. Failure to assist Iraqis will have dramatic impacts on security inside Iraq.
By PAMELA HESS and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, administration officials said Tuesday, ending the war three months later than he had promised during his presidential campaign.
The withdrawal plan — an announcement could come as early as this week — calls for leaving a large contingent of troops behind, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.
Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by pledging to withdraw troops 16 months after taking office. That schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.
The death of an American arms dealer in Iraq has led to one of the most intricate and far-reaching inquiries into corruption among US military officers in Iraq. Some suspect that he was killed because he was a whistleblower who knew too much.
When Dale Stoffel, 43, was gunned down on his way into Baghdad at the height of the insurgency in Iraq, his murder appeared all too predictable. He was an adventurer who seemed to have met his end at the hands of jihadists while engaged in one of the riskiest businesses on the planet.
Seventy percent of Iraq's doctors are reported to have fled the war-torn country in the face of death threats and kidnappings. Those who remain live in fear, often in conditions close to house arrest.
"I was threatened I would be killed because I was working for the Iraqi government at the Medical City," Dr. Thana Hekmaytar told IPS. Baghdad Medical City is the largest medical complex in the country.
Dr. Hekmaytar, a head and neck surgeon, has now been practising at the Saint Raphael Hospital in Baghdad for the last five years.
It is difficult now both as woman and as doctor, she says. Most women are now living in repressive conditions because the government is less secular. And that is besides the chaotic conditions around Iraq.
The American military is shipping battlefield equipment through Jordan and Kuwait, testing possible exit routes in advance of a U.S. withdrawal in Iraq, military officials said.
The convoys — carrying armored vehicles, weapons and other items — mark the Pentagon's first steps in confronting the complex logistics of transporting the huge arsenal stockpiled in Iraq over nearly six years.
It's also part of a wider assessment, ordered by U.S. Central Command, to decide what items the military can transfer, donate, sell or toss away once a full-scale withdrawal is under way, Marine Corps and Army officials told The Associated Press.
US military occupation forces in Iraq under Commander in Chief Obama suffered 22 combat casualties in the eight days ending Feb 18, 2009, as the official total rose to at least 71,142. The total includes 34,465 dead and wounded from what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes and more than 36,677 dead and medically evacuated (as of Jan 31, 2009) from "non-hostile" causes.*
The actual total is over 100,000 because the Pentagon chooses not to count as "Iraq casualties" the more than 30,000 veterans whose injuries - mainly brain trauma from explosions (TBI) diagnosed only after they had left Iraq.**
By Robert Dreyfuss, www.thenation.com
For the first time in six years, it's possible to see the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. Despite all their flaws -- and there were many -- the January 31 elections in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces ratified the resurgence of secular nationalism. A large majority of voters repudiated the Shiite and Sunni religious parties and the Kurdish separatists. And in so doing, they broke free of the rigid confines of the ethno-sectarian politics that has dominated the Iraqi scene since 2003. The results mean that the Obama administration may soon have to deal with a vastly different cast of characters in Iraq -- politicians less willing to tolerate a long-term US presence and firmly opposed to a special relationship between Baghdad and Washington.
A 28-year-old US Army medic has been sentenced by a US military court in Germany to life in prison with the possibility of parole for his role in murdering four Iraqi prisoners in 2007.
The US military court in Vilseck, Germany, on Friday evening, Feb. 20, found Sgt. Michael Leahy guilty of murder for his role in the execution-style killings of four Iraqi detainees.
The nine-member jury convicted Leahy, one of four soldiers charged in the slayings, of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. His rank will be reduced to private and he will be dishonorably discharged from the Army.
Another US soldier, Steven Ribordy, in October was sentenced to eight months in prison for his role in the killings as part of a plea deal.
As the $787 billion stimulus bill snaked its way through the House and the Senate and finally landed under the pen of President Obama, my predominant thought has been holy cow -- that's a lot of money!
Sen. John Thune was even kind enough to explain to CSPAN viewers last week how a stack of hundred dollar bills totaling $787 billion, wrapped side by side, would encircle the Earth nearly 39 times. As unsettling as this new financial commitment may be, it is at least an attempt to help more Americans achieve some semblance of economic security.
The stimulus package was aggressively attacked by fiscal conservatives who have been outspoken about the "pet projects" in the bill, and the wasteful programs that will weigh down future generations with massive debt. Point taken.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at George W. Bush said in the past he had videotaped himself practicing the Arab insult to use against the president whose "icy smile" had filled him with uncontrollable rage.
Muntazer al-Zaidi said on Thursday at the start of his trial in Baghdad on charges of assaulting a foreign leader that he took a recording of his shoe-throwing training two years ago and had hoped to accost Bush in Jordan but this did not take place.
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned Thursday that President Obama risked squandering good will from around the world if he failed to take concrete steps like apologizing for the Iraq war. Archbishop Tutu, 77, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the retired archbishop of Cape Town, also urged Mr. Obama to support the International Criminal Court and “come down hard” on African dictators. He wrote in an article for the BBC’s Web site that the high hopes surrounding Mr. Obama’s presidency could turn sour. Mr. Obama “could easily squander the good will that his election generated if he disappoints,” Archbishop Tutu wrote. “It would be wonderful if, on behalf of the nation, Obama apologizes to the world, and especially the Iraqis, for an invasion that I believe has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.”
By Jeffrey Klein and Paolo Pontoniere, AlterNet
Evidence suggests a payoff to Italy for supplying the forged documents Bush famously used to justify launching the Iraq war.
"Obama Confronts a Choice on Copters" read this week's New York Times. The President soon "will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world -- a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One....The choice confronting Mr. Obama encapsulates the tension between two imperatives of his nascent presidency, the need to meet the continuing threats of an age of terrorism and the demand for austerity in a period of economic hardship."
By Bill Christofferson
This is not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but at least three members of Congress have expressed their support for a campaign to contact members of Congress and urge them to end the occupation of Iraq.
And a fourth has joined protesters at their regular vigil.
Representatives Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, and George Miller -- all California Democrats -- have written the Raise Hell for Molly Ivins campaign to encourage it to continue raising hell. Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, joined a vigil in Wyandotte, MI. (He's at left in photo)
The Ivins campaign has been urging people to use the Third Friday of every month -- Iraq Moratorium day -- to contact Congresspeople in their home offices and ask them to get US troops out of Iraq. Friday, Feb. 20, is Iraq Moratorium #18.
By Col. Richard L. Klass (USAF, ret.), Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA, ret.) and Brig. Gen. John Johns (USA, ret.)
Barack Obama campaigned on a policy of ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq. There is speculation today about how President Obama’s campaign stance will be transformed into actual policy now that he sits in the Oval Office. Based on recent press reports, there is reason to suspect that there may be an effort underway to revise or soften President Obama’s 16-month timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces.
This paper outlines how the President can responsibly execute his policy of removing U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months. It proposes a workable U.S. redeployment schedule that would result in 100,000 total U.S. troops remaining in Iraq by the end of 2009; 35,000 to 65,000 support troops remaining in Iraq by July 2010, when the President’s 16-month timetable would end if it is initiated in April 2009; and less than 1,000 troops remaining by December 2011, when the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement (commonly known as the status of forces agreement or “SOFA”) mandates that all U.S. forces be out of Iraq.
By Ernesto Londoño and Zaid Sabah, The Washington Post
Baghdad - Wearing leather shoes, a pressed beige suit and a scarf emblazoned with the Iraq flag, the Iraqi journalist who became a folk hero in the Arab world by slinging shoes at President George W. Bush defended his conduct on Thursday in court.
"I did not mean to kill the leader of the occupation forces," Muntadar al-Zaidi said, speaking clearly and forcefully from a wooden cage before a packed courtroom. "I was expressing what's inside of me and what's inside the Iraqi people from north to south and from west to east."
Throwing his shoes, fastball style, at the leader of the free world was not, Zaidi argued, a crime.
By Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service
BAGHDAD — “We only want a normal life,” says Um Qasim, sitting in a bombed out building in Baghdad. She and others around have been saying that for years.
Um Qasim lives with 13 family members in a brick shanty on the edge of a former military intelligence building in the Mansoor district of Baghdad.
Five of her children are girls. Homelessness is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly challenging for women and girls.
“Me and my girls have to be extra careful living this way,” Um Qasim told IPS. “We are tired of always being afraid, because any day, any time, strange men walk through our area, and there is no protection for us. Each day brings a new threat to us, and all the women here.”
She rarely leaves her area, she says. Nor do her girls, for fear of being kidnapped or raped.
By Gareth Porter, IPS
WASHINGTON, Feb 17 (IPS) - CENTCOM Commander General David Petraeus and Multinational Force Iraq (MNF-I) Commander General Ray Odierno have submitted assessments of Iraq combat troop withdrawal plans to President Barack Obama based on the premise that his 16-month withdrawal plan would pose significantly greater risk to "security gains" than the 23-month plan they favour.
But a senior commander in Iraq appeared to contradict that premise last week by declaring that security gains in the Shi'a provinces of Iraq are "permanent", and a field commander in Iraq says there is no objective basis for any Petraeus-Odierno finding that Obama's plan carries greater risk than their 23-month plan.
Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions
By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaimaniyah, Northern Iraq, The Independent
In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.
"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.
I've only read a fraction of the books written on the war/occupation of Iraq, and even those are a large pile. It's tough to choose the best one, but one of the most readable and informative has got to be "Red Zone: Five Bloody Years in Baghdad," by Oliver Poole. This is also perhaps the book most likely to engage war supporters and make them think without being didactic and without pulling any punches.
Album: Fallujah, 2009 (Views from inside Fallujah, February 2009.)
Album: Over 1 Million Displaced Persons In Baghdad (As of February 2009, there are over one million displaced people in Baghdad alone.)
Album: Various Photographs of the Occupation (2009) (Various pictures from the occupation in Iraq, February 2009)
Album: Fishermen on the Tigris River (Due to decreased water level, increased pollution, and a disastrous economy, Iraqi fishermen are struggling to survive.)
Album: Awakening Group leaders of Iraq’s Al-Anbar Province (Photos of two key leaders of the U.S.-backed Sunni militia)