Friday, August 25, 2006

The Hessians are Back

The quote was straightforward: “the war in Iraq is over except for the dying.”

Of the more than 3, 500 Iraqis killed in July of this year, 2,100 were found in Baghdad and 77 percent died as a result of “sectarian” violence, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials. In response, the Pentagon increased the U.S. troop strength by 12,000 by committing the rest of the in-theater reserves, delaying the departure of some units while rotating in other units on schedule. Most of the increased numbers reportedly were sent to Baghdad in an attempt, in conjunction with Iraqi army units, to cut the fatality rate.

July also saw a near doubling, compared to January 2006, of the number of attacks by insurgents aimed at U.S. and Iraqi security personnel. The January total was 1,454 while the July figure hit 2,625.

U.S. fatalities in Iraq for July dropped to 44 from 61 in June, but with six days to go in August, and 41 dead to date this month, August will be higher. Similarly, Iraqi civilian (628) and security force (148) fatalities reported are lower, but these statistics may not include fatalities outside of Baghdad.

So far, 2006, which is supposed to be the Year of Transition in Iraq, is anything but. That may start to change in September when Congress returns. The first order of business will be the Defense authorization and Defense Appropriations bills for the next fiscal year starting October 1. The authorization bill is being reconciled in conference, The Senate has to complete work on the appropriations bill, which then will go to conference with the House. Going into the conference committees, three of the four versions will have language barring construction of permanent bases. Getting this language in either of the final bills that emerge from conference would be a transitional step – a small one, admittedly – and mark a psychological departure from the mindset that launched this war.

Meanwhile, next-door is the forgotten war in Afghanistan. There, U.S. fatalities for the year stand at 74 and are on course to exceed last year’s total of 99. Coalition fatalities already are a third higher at 45 than the count for the whole of last year. The number of Afghans killed still is largely unreported or is underreported in the western press.

Back home, as noted last Wednesday, the Marine Corps has received authorization to call up from the Individual Ready Reserve 2,500 Marines for tours of 12-18 months because of a lack of volunteers to fill critical skill vacancies in deploying units.

Now it also seems that the administration is trying quietly to change the contracting rules so that the Pentagon can hire what are, for all intents and purposes, mercenaries. This would, to the best of my knowledge, be a first for the Pentagon – outsourcing combat. And if I remember the little legal instruction I had, it runs up against the Geneva Conventions.

But hey: the administration is trying to by-pass those too!

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