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Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Thunder Run

December 7, 2003 E-mail story Print

The Thunder Run
'Are You Kidding, Sir?': Fewer Than 1,000 Soldiers Were Ordered to Capture a City of 5 Million Iraqis. Theirs Is a Story That May Become Military Legend.


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David Zucchino, David Zucchino is a Times national correspondent based in Philadelphia.


Nine hundred and seventy-five men invading a city of 5 million sounded audacious, or worse, to the U.S. troops assigned the mission outside Baghdad last April 6. Ten years earlier, in Mogadishu, outnumbered American soldiers had been trapped and killed by Somali street fighters. Now some U.S. commanders, convinced the odds were far better in Iraq, scrapped the original plan for taking Baghdad with a steady siege and instead ordered a single bold thrust into the city. The battle that followed became the climax of the war and rewrote American military doctrine on urban warfare.

Back home, Americans learned of the victory in sketchy reports that focused on the outcome—a column of armored vehicles had raced into the city and seized Saddam Hussein's palaces and ministries. What the public didn't know was how close the U.S. forces came to experiencing another Mogadishu. Military units were surrounded, waging desperate fights at three critical interchanges. If any of those fell, the Americans would have been cut off from critical supplies and ammunition.

Embedded journalists reported the battle's broad outlines in April, but a more detailed account has since emerged in interviews with more than 70 of the brigade's officers and men who described the fiercest battle of the war—and one they nearly lost.

Times staff writer David Zucchino, who was embedded with Task Force 4-64 of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), returned to the United States recently to report this story.

On the afternoon of April 4, Army Lt. Col. Eric Schwartz was summoned to a command tent pitched in a dusty field 11 miles south of Baghdad. His brigade commander, Col. David Perkins, looked up from a map and told Schwartz he had a mission for him.

"At first light tomorrow," Perkins said, "I want you to attack into Baghdad."

Schwartz felt disoriented. He had just spent several hours in a tank, leading his armored battalion on an operation that had destroyed dozens of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles 20 miles south. A hot shard of exploding tank had burned a hole in his shoulder.

"Are you kidding, sir?" Schwartz asked, as he waited for the other officers inside the tent to laugh.

There was silence.

"No," Perkins said. "I need you to do this."

Schwartz was stunned. No American troops had yet set foot inside the capital. The original U.S. battle plan called for airborne soldiers, not tanks, to take the city. The tankers had trained for desert warfare, not urban combat. But now Perkins, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), was ordering Schwartz's tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles on a charge into the unknown.

Schwartz's "thunder run" into the city the next morning was a prelude to the fall of Baghdad. It triggered a grinding three-day battle, the bloodiest of the war—and dismissed any public perception of a one-sided slaughter of a passive enemy. Entire Iraqi army units threw down their weapons and fled, but thousands of Iraqi militiamen and Arab guerrillas fought from bunkers and rooftops with grenades, rockets and mortars.

The 2nd Brigade's ultimate seizure of Baghdad has few modern parallels. It was a calculated gamble that will be taught at military academies and training exercises for years to come. It changed the way the military thinks about fighting with tanks in a city. It brought the conflict in Iraq to a decisive climax and shortened the initial combat of the war, perhaps by several weeks.

But when Eric Schwartz got the mission that would prime the battlefield for the decisive strike on Baghdad, he had no idea what he had taken on.

Task Force 1-64, a battalion nicknamed Rogue, rumbled north on Highway 8 toward Baghdad. The column seemed to stretch to the shimmering horizon—30 Abrams tanks and 14 Bradleys, their squat tan forms bathed in pale yellow light. It was dawn on April 5, a bright, hot Saturday.

Schwartz's battalion had been ordered to sprint through 10 1/2 miles of uncharted territory. The column was to conduct "armored reconnaissance," to blow through enemy defenses, testing strengths and tactics. It was to slice through Baghdad's southwestern corner and link up at the airport with the division's 1st Brigade, which had seized the facility the day before.

In the lead tank was 1st Lt. Robert Ball, a slender, soft-spoken North Carolinian. Just 25, Ball had never been in combat until two weeks earlier. He was selected to lead the column not because he had a particularly refined sense of direction but because his tank had a plow. Commanders were expecting obstacles in the highway.

The battalion had been given only a few hours to prepare. Ball studied his military map, but it had no civilian markings—no exit numbers, no neighborhoods. He was worried about missing his exit to the airport at what fellow officers called the "spaghetti junction," a maze of twisting overpasses and offramps on Baghdad's western cusp.

Ball's map was clipped to the top of his tank hatch as the column lumbered up Highway 8. He had been rolling only about 10 minutes when his gunner spotted a dozen Iraqi soldiers leaning against a building several hundred yards away, chatting, drinking tea, their weapons propped against the wall. They had not yet heard the rumble of the approaching tanks.

"Sir, can I shoot at these guys?" the gunner asked.

"Uh, yeah, they're enemy," Ball told him.

Ball had fired at soldiers in southern Iraq, but they had been murky green figures targeted with the tank's thermal imagery system. These soldiers were in living color. Through the tank's sights, Ball could see their eyes, their mustaches, their steaming cups of tea.

The gunner mowed them down methodically, left to right. As each man fell, Ball could see shock cross the face of the next man before he, too, pitched violently to the ground. The last man fled around the corner of the building. But then, inexplicably, he ran back into the open. The gunner dropped him.

The clattering of the tank's rapid-fire medium machine gun seemed to awaken fighters posted along the highway. Gunfire erupted from both sides—AK-47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, followed minutes later by recoilless rifles and antiaircraft guns.

Iraqi soldiers and militiamen were firing from a network of trenches and bunkers carved into the highway's shoulders, and from rooftops and alleyways. Some were inside cargo containers buried in the dirt. Others were tucked beneath the overpasses or firing down from bridges.

In the southbound lanes, civilian cars were cruising past, their occupants staring wide-eyed at the fireballs erupting from the tank's main guns and the bright tracer flashes from the rapid-fire medium and .50-caliber machine guns. From onramps and access roads, other cars packed with Iraqi gunmen were attacking. Mixed in were troop trucks, armored personnel carriers, taxis and motorcycles with sidecars.

The crews were under strict orders to identify targets as military before firing. They were to fire warning shots, then shoot into engine blocks if a vehicle continued to approach. Some cars screeched to a halt. Others kept coming, and the gunners ripped into them. The crews could see soldiers or armed civilians in some of the smoking hulks. In others, they weren't sure. Nobody knew how many civilians had been killed. They knew only that any vehicle that kept coming was violently eliminated.

As the column lurched forward, buses and trucks unloaded Iraqi fighters. Some were in uniform, some in jeans and sports shirts. Others wore the baggy black robes of the Fedayeen Saddam, Hussein's loyal militiamen. To the Americans, they seemed to have no training, no discipline, no coordinated tactics. It was all point and shoot. The machine guns sent chunks of their bodies onto the roadside.

The Americans were suffering casualties, too. A Bradley was hit by an RPG and disabled. The driver panicked and leaped out, breaking his leg. A Bradley commander stopped and dragged the driver to safety.

At a highway cloverleaf, a tank was hit in its rear engine housing and burst into flames. The column stopped as the crew tried desperately to put out the fire. But the flames, fed by leaking fuel, spread.

The entire column was now exposed and taking heavy fire. Two suicide vehicles packed with explosives sped down the offramps. They were destroyed by tank cannons. After nearly 30 minutes of fighting, Perkins ordered the tank abandoned. To keep the tank out of Iraqi hands, the crew destroyed it with incendiary grenades.

By now the resistance was organizing. Fighters who appeared to be dead or wounded were suddenly leaping up and firing at the backs of American vehicles. Schwartz ordered his gunners to "double tap," to shoot anybody they saw moving near a weapon. "If it was a confirmed kill, they'd let it go," Schwartz said later. "If it wasn't, they'd tap it again. We were checking our work."

At the head of the column, Ball was approaching the spaghetti junction. His map showed the exit splitting into two ramps. He knew he wanted the ramp to the right. He had been following blue English "Airport" signs, but now smoke from a burning Iraqi personnel carrier obscured the entire cloverleaf.

In the web of overpasses, Ball found the ramp he wanted and stayed right. He was halfway down when he realized he should have taken a different one. Now he was heading east into downtown Baghdad, the opposite direction from the airport. The entire column was following him.

He told his driver to turn left, then roll over the guardrail and turn back onto the westbound lanes. The rail crumbled, the column followed, and everyone rumbled back toward the airport.

Behind Ball, a tank commanded by Lt. Roger Gruneisen had fallen behind. Some equipment from the crippled tank had been dumped onto the top of Gruneisen's tank, obstructing his view from the hatch. With the emergency addition of Staff Sgt. Jason Diaz, commander of the burning tank, and Diaz's gunner, Gruneisen now had five men squeezed into a tank designed for four.

The gunner had swung the main gun right to fire on a bunker. In the loader's hatch, Sgt. Carlos Hernandez saw that the gun tube was headed for a concrete bridge abutment. He screamed, "Traverse left!" But they were moving rapidly. The gun tube smacked the abutment. The entire turret spun like a top. Inside, the crewmen were pinned against the walls, struggling to hold on as the turret turned wildly two dozen times before stopping. It was like an out-of-control carnival ride.

The crew was dizzy. Hernandez looked at the gunner. Blood was spurting from his nose. His head and chest were soaked with greenish-yellow hydraulic fluid. The impact had severed a hydraulic line. Except for the gunner's bloody nose, no one was hurt.

The main gun was bent and smashed. It flopped to the side, useless. The tank continued up Highway 8, Gruneisen on the .50-caliber and Hernandez on a medium machine gun. They rolled up to the spaghetti junction into a curtain of black smoke—and missed the airport turn. They were headed into the city center.

Hernandez saw that they were approaching a traffic circle. As they drew closer, he saw that the circle was clogged with Iraqi military trucks and soldiers. It was a staging area for troops attacking the American column.

From around the circle, just a block away, a yellow pickup truck sped toward the tank. Hernandez tore into it with the machine gun, killing the driver. The tank driver slammed on the brake to avoid the truck, but it was crushed beneath the treads. The impact sent Hernandez's machine gun tumbling off the back of the tank.

The tank reversed to clear itself from the wreckage, crushing the machine gun. A passenger from the truck wandered into the roadway. The tank pitched forward, trying to escape the circle, and crushed him.

The crew was now left with just one medium machine gun and the .50-caliber. Firing both guns to clear the way, the crewmen helped direct the tank driver out of the circle. As they pulled away, they could see a blue "Airport" sign. They were less than five miles from the airport.

They caught up with the column. They passed groves of date palm trees and thick underbrush, and everyone worried about another ambush.

In the lead platoon, Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker was leaning out of his tank commander's hatch, firing his M-4 carbine because his .50-caliber machine gun had jammed. Enemy fire was so intense that Booker had ordered his loader, Pvt. Joseph Gilliam, to get down in the hatch. As Booker leaned down, he told Gilliam: "I don't want to die in this country." As he resumed firing, he shouted down to Gilliam and the gunner, Sgt. David Gibbons: "I'm a baad mother!"

Gilliam, 21, and Gibbons, 22, idolized Booker, who, at 34, was experienced and decisive. He was a loud, aggressive, extroverted lifer. His booming voice was the first thing his men heard in the morning and the last thing at night.

As Gibbons, in the gunner's perch at Booker's feet inside the turret, fired rounds, he felt Booker drop down behind him. He assumed he had come down to get more ammunition. But then he heard the loader, Gilliam, scream and curse. He looked back at Booker and saw that half his jaw was missing. He had been hit by a machine-gun round.

The turret was splattered with blood. As Gibbons crawled up in the commander's hatch, he saw that Booker was trying to breathe. He radioed for help and was ordered to stop and wait for medics. Gibbons and Gilliam tried to perform "buddy aid" to stop the bleeding.

The medics arrived and, under fire, lifted Booker's body into the medical vehicle. The driver sped toward a medevac helicopter at the airport, just as the physician's assistant radioed that Booker was gone. The assistant covered the sergeant's bloodied face and, not knowing what else to do, held his hand. Booker's body arrived just ahead of the rest of the column, which rolled onto the tarmac in a hail of gunfire. Some of the tanks and Bradleys were on fire and leaking oil, but they had survived the gantlet.

At the airport that morning, Col. Perkins spoke on the tarmac with his superior, Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, the 3rd Infantry Division commander. Rogue battalion had lost a tank commander and tank, but they had killed almost 1,000 fighters and torn a hole in Baghdad's defenses.

Blount wanted to keep the pressure on Saddam's forces. He had seen intelligence suggesting that Saddam's elite Republican Guard units were being sent into Baghdad to reinforce the capital. But, in truth, he really didn't have good intelligence. It was too dangerous to send in scouts. Satellite imagery didn't show bunkers or camouflaged armor and artillery. Blount had access to only one unmanned spy drone, and its cameras weren't providing much either.

Prisoners of war had told U.S. interrogators that the Iraqi military was expecting American tanks to surround the city while infantry from the 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne cleared the capital. And that was the U.S. plan—at least until the thunder run that morning altered the equation.

Blount told Perkins to go back into the city in two days, on Monday the 7th. Blount wanted him to test the city's defenses, destroy as many Iraqi forces as possible and then come out to prepare for the siege of the capital.

Perkins was eager to go back in, but not for another thunder run. He wanted to stay. He had just heard Mohammed Said Sahaf, the bombastic information minister, deliver a taunting news conference, claiming that no American forces had entered Baghdad and that Iraqi troops had slaughtered hundreds of American "scoundrels" at the airport.

When Perkins got back to the brigade operations center south of the city, he told his executive officer, Lt. Col. Eric Wesley: "This just changed from a tactical war to an information war. We need to go in and stay."

The brigade was exhausted. It had been on the move day and night, rolling up from Kuwait and fighting Fedayeen and Republican Guard units—sprinting 435 miles in just over two weeks, the fastest overland march in U.S. military history. Their tanks and Bradleys were beat up. The crews had not slept in days. Now they had just one day to prepare for the pivotal battle of the war.

The charge up Highway 8 on April 7 was similar to the sprint by Rogue Battalion two days earlier. Fedayeen and Arab volunteers and Republican Guards fired from roadside bunkers and from windows and alleys on both sides of the highway. Suicide vehicles tried to ram the column.

Gunners pounded everything that moved, radioing back to trailing vehicles to kill off what they missed. It took only two hours to blow through the spaghetti junction and speed east to Saddam's palace complex. Schwartz's lead battalion, Rogue, rolled to Saddam's parade field, with its massive crossed sabers and tomb of the unknown soldier. Rogue also seized one of Saddam's two main downtown palaces, the convention center and the Rashid Hotel, home to the Baath Party elite.

Lt. Col. Philip deCamp's Task Force 4-64, the Tusker battalion, swung to the east and raced for Saddam's hulking Republican Palace and the 14th of July Bridge, which controlled access to the palace complex from the south.

The targets had been selected not only for their strategic value, but also because they were in open terrain. The palace complex consisted of broad boulevards, gardens and parks—and few tall buildings or narrow alleyways. The battalions could set up defensive positions, with open fields of fire.

The Tusker battalion destroyed bunkers at the western arch of the Republican Palace grounds, blew apart two recoilless rifles teams guarding the arch and smashed through a metal gate. The palace had been evacuated, but there were soldiers in a tree line and along the Tigris River bank. The infantrymen killed some, and others fled, stripping off their uniforms.

At a traffic circle at the base of the 14th of July Bridge, Capt. Steve Barry's Cyclone Company fought off cars and trucks that streaked across the bridge, some packed with explosives. There were three in the first 10 minutes, six more right after that. The tanks and Bradleys destroyed them all.

By midmorning, Perkins was meeting with his two battalion commanders on Saddam's parade grounds. They gave live interviews to an embedded Fox TV crew. Lt. Col. DeCamp and one of his company commanders, Capt. Chris Carter—both University of Georgia graduates—unfurled a Georgia Bulldogs flag. Capt. Jason Conroy toppled a massive Saddam statue with a single tank round.

As his tankers celebrated, Perkins took a satellite phone call from Wesley, his executive officer. Wesley ran the brigade's tactical operations center, a network of radios, computers, satellite maps and communications vehicles set up on the cement courtyard of an abandoned warehouse 11 miles south of the city center.

It was hard for Wesley to hear on his hand-held Iridium phone; a high-pitched whine sounded over his head. He thought it was a low-flying airplane.

Wesley shouted into the phone: "Congratulations, sir, I—" and at that instant an orange fireball blew past him and slammed him to the ground. The whine wasn't an airplane. It was a missile. The entire operations center was engulfed in flames.

Wesley still had the phone. "Sir," he said. "We've been hammered!"


"We've been hit. I'll have to call you back. It doesn't look good."

Rows of signal vehicles were on fire and exploding. A line of parked Humvees evaporated, consumed in a brilliant flash. Men were writhing on the ground, their skin seared. A driver and a mechanic were swallowed by the fireball, killed instantly. Another driver, horribly burned, lay dying. Two embedded reporters perished on the concrete, their corpses scorched to gray ash. Seventeen soldiers were wounded, some seriously.

The brigade's nerve center, its communications brain, was gone. The entire mission—the brigade's audacious plan to conquer a city of 5 million with 975 combat soldiers and 88 armored vehicles in a single violent strike—was in jeopardy.

It got worse. As Wesley and his officers tended to the dead and wounded, Perkins was receiving distressing reports from Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty, a battalion commander charged with keeping the brigade's supply lines open along Highway 8. One of Twitty's companies was surrounded. It was "amber" on fuel and ammunition—a level dangerously close to "black," the point at which there is not enough to sustain a fight.

The Baghdad raid, launched at dawn, was now approaching its sixth hour—well past the Hour Four deadline Perkins had set to decide whether to stay for the night. That benchmark was critical because his tanks, which consume 56 gallons of fuel an hour, had eight to 10 hours of fuel. That meant four hours going in and four coming out.

To conserve fuel, Perkins ordered the tanks set up in defensive positions and shut down. They couldn't maneuver, but they could still fire—and each hour they were turned off bought Perkins another hour.

Even so, time was running out for Twitty, whose outnumbered companies were clinging to three crucial interchanges.

"Sir, there's one hell of a fight here," Twitty told Perkins. "I'll be honest with you: I don't know how long I can hold it here."

Even after Twitty received reinforcements, tying up the brigade's only reserve force, his men had to be resupplied. But the resupply convoy was ambushed on Highway 8; two sergeants were killed and five fuel and ammunition trucks were destroyed. The highway was a shooting gallery. If Perkins lost the roadway, he and his men would be trapped in the city without fuel or ammunition.

American combat commanders are trained to develop a "decision support matrix," an analytical breakdown of alternatives based on a rapidly unfolding chain of circumstances. For Perkins, the matrix was telling him: cut your losses, pull back, return another day. His command center was in flames. He had spent his reserve force. And now his fuel and ammunition were burning on the highway.

On the parade grounds, Perkins stood next to his armored personnel carrier, map in hand, flanked by his two tank battalion commanders. The air was heavy with swirling sand and grit. Black plumes of oily smoke rose from burning vehicles and bunkers.

Perkins knew the prudent move was to pull out, but he felt compelled to stay. His men had fought furiously to reach the palace complex. It seemed obscene to make them fight their way back out, and to surrender terrain infused with incalculable psychological and strategic value.

Sahaf, the delusional information minister, was already claiming that no American "infidels" had breached the city's defenses. Perkins had just heard Sahaf's distinctive rant on BBC radio: "The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad." A retreat now, Perkins thought, would validate the minister's lies. It would unravel the brigade's singular achievement, which had put American soldiers inside Saddam's two main palaces and American boots on his reviewing stand.

Perkins turned to his tank battalion commanders. "We're staying."

Lt. Col. Stephen Twitty is right-handed, but early that morning he found himself drawing diagrams with his left hand. He was crouched in a Bradley hatch, holding a radio with his right hand while he tried to diagram an emergency battle plan.

Over the radio net, Twitty had heard the tank battalions in the city celebrating and discussing the wine collections at Saddam's palaces. He was only a few miles away, at a Highway 8 interchange code-named Objective Larry, but he was in the fight of his life. Twitty had survived the first Gulf War, but he had never encountered anything like this.

His men were being pounded from all directions—by small arms, mortars, RPGs, gun trucks, recoilless rifles. The two tank battalions had punched through Highway 8, but now the enemy had regrouped and was mounting a relentless counterattack against Twitty's mechanized infantry battalion.

As he scratched out his battle plan, Twitty spotted an orange-and-white taxi speeding toward his Bradley. A man in the back seat was firing an AK-47. Twitty screamed into the radio: "Taxi! Taxi coming!"

He realized how absurd he sounded. So he shouted at his Bradley gunner: "Slew the turret and fire!" The gunner spotted the taxi and fired a blast of 25mm rounds. The taxi blew up. It had been loaded with explosives.

Twitty's China battalion, Task Force 3-15, would destroy dozens of vehicles that day, many of them packed with explosives. They would blow up buses and motorcycles and pickup trucks. They would kill hundreds of fighters, as well as civilians who inadvertently blundered into the fight. Twitty ordered his engineers to tear down highway signs and light poles and pile up charred vehicles to build protective berms. But several suicide cars crashed through, and Twitty's men kept killing them. Twitty was astonished. He hadn't expected much resistance, but the Syrians and Fedayeen were relentless, fanatical, determined to die.

Twitty saw a busload of soldiers pull straight into the kill zone. A tank round obliterated the vehicle—burning alive everyone inside. The driver of a second busload saw the carnage, yet kept coming. The tanks lit up his bus, too.

From Objective Moe, about two miles north, and from Objective Curly, about two miles south, Twitty received urgent calls requesting mortar and artillery fire—"danger close," or within 220 yards of their own positions. Mortars and artillery screamed down, driving the Syrians and Fedayeen back. But at Curly, a stray round wounded two American infantrymen, and the artillery was shut down there.

At Curly, Capt. Zan Hornbuckle had enemy fighters inside his perimeter. He sent infantrymen to clear the ramps and overpasses. It was dangerous, methodical work. The infantrymen crept up behind a series of support walls, tossed grenades into trenches, then gunned down the fighters inside as they rose to return fire.

The Americans were killing fighters by the dozens, but the infantrymen were getting hit, too. Their flak vests protected vital organs, but several men were dragged back with bright red shrapnel wounds ripped into their arms, legs and necks.

Dr. Erik Schobitz, the battalion surgeon, treated the wounded. Capt. Schobitz was a pediatrician with no combat experience. He had never fired an automatic rifle until a month earlier. Schobitz wore a stethoscope with a yellow plastic rabbit attached—his lucky stethoscope. It was hanging there when a sliver of shrapnel hit his face, wounding him slightly.

With Schobitz was Capt. Steve Hommel, the battalion chaplain. He moved from one wounded man to the next, talking softly, squeezing their hands. Hommel had been a combat infantry sergeant in the first Gulf War, but even he was alarmed. He feared being overrun—there were hundreds of enemy fighters bearing down on just 80 combat soldiers, who were backed by Bradleys but no tanks. Hommel tried to appear calm while comforting the wounded.

Enemy fighters were firing on the medics, and some of them fired back. The chaplain grabbed one medic's M-16 and shot at muzzle flashes east of the highway. Hommel didn't know whether he hit anyone, and he didn't want to know. He was a Baptist minister.

Several miles north, at Objective Moe, Capt. Josh Wright was struggling to keep his perimeter intact. Two of Wright's three platoon sergeants were wounded, and two engineers went down with shrapnel wounds. A gunner was hit with a ricochet. An infantryman dragging a wounded enemy soldier to safety was hit in the wrist and stomach. One Bradley's TOW missile launcher was destroyed. Another Bradley had a machine gun go down. One of the tanks lost use of its main gun.

Wright radioed Twitty and asked for permission to fire on a mosque to the north. Through his sights, he could see an RPG team in each minaret and another on the mosque roof. Under the rules of engagement, the mosque was now a hostile, nonprotected site. Twitty granted permission to fire. All three RPG teams were killed, leaving smoking black holes in the minarets.

By now, Wright had managed to get infantrymen and snipers into buildings north of the interchange. They were able to kill advancing fighters while mortar rounds ripped into soldiers hiding in the palm grove.

Then the mortars stopped. The platoon mortar leader at Objective Curly radioed Wright and apologized profusely. He was "black"—completely out of mortar rounds. He couldn't fire again until the resupply convoy was sent north.

Wright's own men were now telling him they were "amber" on all types of ammunition. Wright wasn't certain how much longer he could hold the interchange.

At Objective Curly, Hornbuckle tried to sound positive on the radio but Twitty could hear the stress in his voice. He asked the captain to put on the battalion command sergeant major, Robert Gallagher. A leathery-faced Army Ranger of 40, Gallagher had survived the battle at Mogadishu, where he had been wounded three times. Twitty knew Gallagher would be blunt.

"All right, sergeant major, I want the truth," Twitty said. "Do you need reinforcements?"

"Sir, we need reinforcements," Gallagher said.

Twitty radioed Perkins and told him he could not hold Curly without reinforcements.

"If you need it, you've got it," Perkins assured him.

Twitty called Capt. Ronny Johnson, commander of the reserve company defending the operations center, which was still burning.

"How fast can you get here?" Twitty asked.

"Sir, I can be there in 15 minutes," Johnson said. It was only about two miles from the operations center to Curly.

"That's not fast enough. Get here now."

Johnson and his platoon raced north on Highway 8, fighting through a withering ambush. With 10 Bradleys and 65 infantrymen, the convoy bulked up the combat power at Curly. They plunged into the fight, stabilizing the perimeter.

At the burning operations center, executive officer Wesley was directing casualty evacuation and trying to build a makeshift command center, combining computers and communications equipment that had escaped the fireball with gear salvaged from burning vehicles. Within an hour, they had fashioned a temporary communications network across the highway from the scorched ruins.

Back in radio communication, Wesley resumed helping Perkins direct the battles. He offered to send the rest of Johnson's company to Curly to solidify the interchange. That left the stripped-down operations center virtually unprotected.

At Objective Larry, Twitty's men were beginning to run low on ammunition. He could hear his gunner screaming, "More ammo! Get us more ammo!"

Twitty had to get the supply convoy to the interchanges, a dangerous endeavor. The fuel tankers were 2,500-gallon bombs on wheels. The ammunition trucks were portable fireworks factories. In military argot, they were the ultimate "soft-skin" vehicles. Worse, there were no tanks or Bradleys to escort them; they were all fighting in the city or at the three interchanges.

Twitty called Johnson at Curly and asked for an assessment.

"Sir," Johnson said, "what I can tell you is, it's not as intense a fight as it was an hour ago but we're still in a pretty good fight here."

Twitty asked to hear from Gallagher. "Boss," Gallagher said, "I'm not going to tell you we can get 'em through without risk, but we can get 'em through."

Twitty put the radio down and lowered his head. He had to make a decision. And whatever he decided, American soldiers were going to die. He knew it. They would die at one of the interchanges, where they would be overrun if they weren't resupplied. Or they would die in the convoy.

He picked up the radio. "All right," he said. "We're going to execute."

Just north of the burning operations center, Capt. J.O. Bailey was in a command armored personnel carrier, leading the supply convoy—six fuel tankers and eight ammunition trucks. He felt vulnerable; he had no idea where he was going to park all his combustible vehicles in the middle of a firefight.

The convoy had gone less than a mile when Bailey spotted a mob of about 100 armed men across railroad tracks. He was on the radio, warning everyone, when the convoy was rocked by explosions.

Near the head of the convoy, Sgt. 1st Class John W. Marshall opened up with a grenade launcher in the turret of his soft-skin Humvee. Marshall was 50—one of the oldest men in the brigade—and had volunteered for Iraq. Marshall had just sent grenades crashing toward the gunmen when the top of the Humvee exploded. In the front seat, Spc. Kenneth Krofta was stunned by a flash of light. Black smoke was blowing through the Humvee. Krofta looked up into the turret. Marshall was gone. He had been blown out of the vehicle by a grenade blast.

The driver, Pfc. Angel Cruz, stopped and got out, looking for Marshall. He saw gunmen approaching and squeezed off a burst from his rifle. Bullets ripped into the Humvee.

The radio squawked. Cruz was ordered to move out. Soldiers in another vehicle had seen Marshall's body. He was dead. The convoy was speeding up, trying to escape the kill zone. A week would pass before the battalion was able to retrieve Marshall's corpse.

As the convoy raced through the ambush, an RPG rocketed into a personnel carrier. Staff Sgt. Robert Stever, who had just fired more than 1,000 rounds from his .50-caliber machine gun, was blown back into the vehicle, killed instantly. Shrapnel tore into Chief Warrant Officer Angel Acevedo and Pfc. Jarred Metz, wounding both.

Metz was knocked from the driver's perch. His legs were numb and blood was seeping through his uniform. He dragged himself back into position and kept the vehicle moving. Acevedo was bleeding, too. Screaming instructions to Metz, he directed the vehicle back into the speeding column with Stever's body slumped inside.

Riddled with shrapnel, the convoy limped into the interchange at Curly—and directly into the firefight. Bailey was trying to move his convoy out of harm's way when something slammed into a fuel tanker. The vehicle exploded. Hunks of the tanker flew off, forming super-heated projectiles that tore into other vehicles. Three ammunition trucks and a second fuel tanker exploded. Ammunition started to cook off. Rounds screamed in all directions, ripping off chunks of concrete and slicing through vehicles. The trucks were engulfed in orange fireballs.

Mechanics and drivers sprinted for the vehicles that were intact. They cranked up the engines and drove them to safety beneath the overpass, managing to save five ammunition trucks and four fuel tankers—enough to resupply the combat teams at all three intersections.

Fuel and ammunition were unloaded under fire. The surviving vehicles headed north to Objective Larry, escorted by Bradleys, breaking through the firefight there and arriving safely.

Twitty felt overwhelming relief. He knew he could break the enemy now, and so could the combat team at Objective Curly. But he still had to resupply Capt. Wright at Objective Moe.

Capt. Johnson, whose Bradleys had escorted the convoy to resupply Twitty, headed north toward Moe. By radio, Johnson arranged with Wright to have Highway 8 cleared of obstacles so that the convoy could pull in, stop briefly and let the resupply vehicles designated for Wright peel off. Then Johnson's vehicles were to continue on, obeying a new order from Perkins to secure the mile-long stretch of highway between Objective Moe and Perkins' palace command post in the city center.

The convoy broke through the battle lines and stopped at the cloverleaf at Moe. But there had been a communication breakdown. The full convoy, including the supply vehicles, pulled away under heavy fire, leaving Wright's company still desperate for fuel and ammunition.

Wright's heart sank. He had been forced to tighten his perimeter to save fuel, giving up ground his men had just taken. Now he watched his fuel and ammo disappear up the highway. But the smaller perimeter also meant Wright could afford to send two tanks to a supply point a mile away that Johnson set up near the palace. There the tanks refueled as their crews stuffed the bustle racks with ammunition. A second pair of tanks followed a half-hour later, bringing back more fuel and ammunition. Wright's men were set for the night.

In the city center, the tank battalions led by Schwartz and DeCamp were holding their ground but still desperately low on fuel and ammunition. With the combat teams at all three interchanges able to hold their ground, two supply convoys were now sent up Highway 8 toward the city center. It was a high-speed race. Every vehicle was hit by fire, but the convoys rolled into the palace complex just before dusk, fuel and ammunition intact. Tankers at the 14th of July circle cheered, and there were high-fives and handshakes when the trucks set up an instant gas station and supply point next to the palace rose beds. Perkins was convinced now that Baghdad was his. He didn't need to control the whole city. He just needed the palace complex and a way to get fuel and ammunition in.

Now he had both.

"We had come in, created a lot of chaos, lots of violence and momentum all at once," Perkins said later. "We had speed and audacity. And now with the resupply, we were there for good and there was nothing the other side could do about it."

The next morning, Capt. Phil Wolford's Assassin tank company would repel a fierce counterattack at the Jumhuriya Bridge across the Tigris River. Rogue battalion would engage in running firefights throughout central Baghdad. At the three interchanges on Highway 8, Syrians and Fedayeen mounted more attacks for much of the day, bringing the China battalion's casualties to two dead and 30 wounded. But the American forces now fought from a position of strength. On the third day, April 9, Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.

On the night of April 7, after a long day of sustained combat, there had been an extended lull at the palace complex and up and down Highway 8. The tankers and the infantrymen sensed a shift in momentum. Some dared to speak of going home soon, for they now believed the war was nearly over. There would be two more days of fierce fighting before Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed. But on the night of April 7, theirs would be a decisive victory, the last one in Iraq for a long time.

The Thunder Run
Iraq war news
Japan's PM hopes to visit Iraq as the nation mourns deaths of diplomats: "Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he wants to visit Iraq, as he prepares to send troops to help rebuild the war-torn country. (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Rumsfeld flies into northern Iraq: "US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrives in Kirkuk on a visit to assess the military and political situation in Iraq."

In BBC: Conflict with Iraq (UK Edition)

Rumsfeld visits Iraqi northern oil fields: "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, without advanced public notice, flew into northern Iraq early Saturday, landing in the heart of country's northern oil fields."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Baghdad Bomb Attack Kills U.S. Soldier, 4 Iraqis: "A bomb exploded in the middle of a busyBaghdad road on Friday, killing an American soldier and atleast four Iraqis ahead of a visit by Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Baker Is Named to Restructure Iraq's Huge Debt: "President Bush named James A. Baker III as his personal envoy to restructure more than $100 billion in Iraq's debt."

In New York Times: World Special

Trail of Anti-U.S. Fighters Said to Cross Europe to Iraq: "Recent arrests show that Al Qaeda has established a network across Europe that is moving recruits into Iraq to join the insurgency."

In New York Times: World Special

Roadside Bomb Kills a G.I. and 2 Civilians in Baghdad: "A U.S. soldier and two Iraqis were killed when an improvised bomb exploded on a commercial strip. About a dozen Iraqis were wounded."

In New York Times: World Special

Hundreds of U.S. Troops Infected by Parasite Borne by Sand Flies, Army Says: "U.S. troops in Iraq have been infected with a parasite spread by sand flies and the long-term consequences are still unknown."

In New York Times: World Special

Powell stays with U.S. Mideast peace plan: "The Israeli and Palestinian authors of a private Middle East peace plan presented their proposals to Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday but were unable to alter the Bush administration's approach to peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Powell views unofficial Mideast peace plan: "The Israeli and Palestinian authors of a private Middle East peace plan presented their proposals to Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday but were unable to alter the Bush administration's approach to peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

AP: Iraq set to form war crimes tribunal: "Saddam Hussein and hundreds of his aides could go on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide in an Iraqi-led tribunal that will be established in the coming days, Iraqi and American officials told The Associated Press on Friday."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Middle East Demands Honest Dealers, Dealmaking: "When Saddam Hussein compared President Bush to the Mongol general Hulegu in a speech shortly before the U.S. invasion, he demonstrated the importance of history to the peoples of the Middle East. (Pacific News Service, Commentary, Franz Schurmann, Dec 05, 2003)"

In New California Media: Focus on Iraq

How an American war hero is taking his battle over Iraq to Washington (05 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Rigging Iraq's elections (5 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Right media power grows ever larger - Bush has a present for Murdoch (5 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Thousands welcome Sudan rebel delegation: "More than 30,000 jubilant supporters overwhelmed airport security on Friday and rushed up to a plane carrying the first delegation of rebels to arrive in the Sudanese capital in 20 years."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

AP: Bremer predicts more attacks in Iraq: "Iraqi guerrillas will step up attacks in the next few months in an attempt to thwart a transfer of sovereignty from the occupation authority to a new Iraqi government, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq said Friday."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Palestinians to open West Bank market: "Palestinian vendors hammered at the rusty locks on their stores Friday as the Israeli military allowed a market in the divided West Bank city of Hebron to open for the first time in more than a year."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Iraqi insurgency claims more lives as US appoints debt envoy: "Iraq's insurgency claimed more Iraqi and American lives when a bomb targeting a US army convoy exploded in a busy shopping street in Baghdad just as a pro-US demonstration condemned growing "terrorism." (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Mum Vainly Tries to See U.S. Iraq Soldier Daughter: "A peace activist accused the U.S.military on Friday of depriving her of the chance to visit hersoldier daughter, telling her that the truck driver was on amission. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Friday, December 05, 2003

BBC NEWS | Europe | Russian 'suicide' blast kills 40

An apparent suicide bombing has killed at least 40 people and injured some 170 on a crowded commuter train in southern Russia, close to the Chechen region.
The blast struck the train just outside the spa town of Yessentuki during the morning rush hour and many of the victims are said to be young students.

A Russian minister said the attack bore the hallmarks of Chechen rebels.

President Vladimir Putin described it as a bid to destabilise the country days before its parliamentary election.

International terrorism, which has now thrown down a challenge to very many countries throughout the world, remains a serious threat to our country too

Vladimir Putin
Justice Minister Yuri Chaika suggested evidence at the scene pointed to "Chechen terrorism" as a possible theory for the blast.

The director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev, said a male suicide attacker and three women accomplices appeared to have carried out the attack.

Two of the female attackers leapt from the train seconds before the explosion while the third woman was, he added, seriously injured and unlikely to survive.

Mr Patrushev said hand grenades attached to the legs of the male suspect indicated he had been a suicide attacker.

No claims of responsibility for the blast were reported in the immediate aftermath, but a string of similar attacks in recent years have been blamed on Chechen separatist rebels.

The Stavropol area, where the blast occurred, has declared Monday a day of mourning.

Student dead

The explosion ripped through the second carriage from the front shortly before 0740 local time (0440 GMT) on Friday, 400 metres (yards) outside Yessentuki.

Investigators said a bomb appeared to have been left under a seat and a railway official quoted them as saying it had had the explosive force of 30 kilos (66 pounds) of TNT.

Many of those hit by the blast were students as young as 19 from the town of Kislovodsk who were on their way to study in Pyatigorsk, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reports.

An incomplete list of the dead published by the authorities in Stavropol suggested the ages of the victims ranged from 16 to 68.

Such was the power of the blast that it tore the carriage in two, knocking it on its side and sparking a fire.

At least 15 people were killed at the scene, with more dying of their wounds in hospital.

Three hours after the explosion, rescuers were still working at the scene, managing to extract one passenger alive but badly injured.


Mr Putin described the attack as "international terrorism" and said it was a clear attempt to destabilise the situation before Sunday's State Duma election.


15 Sept: At least two killed at Russian security HQ in Magas, Ingushetia
3 Sept: At least four killed on Mineralniye Vody train
25 Aug: At least three killed at Krasnodar bus stops
1 Aug: 50 killed at Mozdok hospital
5 July Chechen suicide bombers kill at least 14 at a rock concert near Moscow

"The crime perpetrated this morning bears witness to the fact that international terrorism, which has now thrown down a challenge to very many countries throughout the world, remains a serious threat to our country too."

Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov vowed to track down the "animals" behind the explosion.

"The ground will burn under their feet. These animals will never be able to feel safe," he told a gathering of war veterans.

September's train explosion came on the first day of campaigning for the poll and coincided with a visit by Mr Putin to the southern city of Rostov for a meeting of the country's State Council.

The president has long claimed to have the situation in Chechnya under control.

But with another blast having struck the same train line where people were killed just three months ago, serious questions will be raised about how stringent security measures are, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Moscow.

BBC NEWS | Europe | Russian 'suicide' blast kills 40
Iraq war news
Bush holds fast to his Mideast approach: "President Bush showed guarded interest Thursday in an unofficial peace plan for the Middle East but held firm to his own approach that calls for a democratic Palestinian state and the end of terror attacks against Israel."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

U.S. exporting 'tools of torture' (04 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Powell urges greater NATO role in Iraq: "US Secretary of State Colin Powell called on NATO to take on a greater role in Iraq to help stabilize the violence-wracked country where the US is seeking to ease the pressure on its own forces. (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

"We have happy children, lots of them": "Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mu'ayyad is learning how to wrestle. Aspiring painter Hanin Rida, aged 10, is throwing pots, firing her finished pottery and learning how to draw. Budding actor Mithaq Abu Ali, has already acted and sung in three plays."

In Electronic Iraq

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights and Iraqi human rights minister discuss human rights in Iraq: "The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has offered to make its expertise available to Iraqi officials and representatives of the country's civil society as they establish a legal framework to promote and protect human rights. This initiatives was discussed by Bertrand Ramcharan and Abdel Baset Turki."

In Electronic Iraq

Iraqi Governing Council bans satellite television station Al-Arabiya: "RSF has called on the Iraqi Governing Council to reverse its decision banning the Dubai-based satellite television news channel Al-Arabiya from operating in Iraq until it signs a written commitment not to encourage terrorism."

In Electronic Iraq

Ex-minister: Accord needs Arafat backing: "An organizer of an alternative Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty said Thursday that it was unlikely the agreement would succeed without support from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Guerrillas fire on Iraqi police station: "Guerrillas fired on a police station Thursday in a town west of Baghdad, wounding six Iraqis, and a roadside bomb destroyed a U.S. armored vehicle in the capital. There were no American casualties in either attack."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

U.S. Seeks to Cut Off Money to Guerrillas: "A spate of U.S. raids on Iraqi smugglers signals a new strategy to deny the guerrilla insurgency one of its chief recruiting assets: money. If U.S. military strategists are correct, the insurgency will soon face a financial crisis when old Iraqi dinar notes bearing the face of Saddam Hussein will be worthless. The military wants to deepen the crisis by launching raids on black marketeers thought to be funding the guerrilla movement. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Kyoto Protocol in Peril (04 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Bush Plane Flew Under False Cover on Iraq Trip: "President Bush's flight plan wasfalsified last week to hide his Thanksgiving Day visit to Iraq,the White House said on Thursday, in another example of theextraordinary -- and deceptive -- steps taken in arranging thebattle-zone trip. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Guerrillas Fire on Iraqi Police Station: "Guerrillas fired on a police station Thursday in a town west of Baghdad, wounding six Iraqis, and a roadside bomb destroyed a U.S. armored vehicle in the capital. There were no American casualties in either attack. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Daily U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq: "As of Thursday, Dec. 4, 441 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 304 died as a result of hostile action and 137 died of non-hostile causes, the department said. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Stand by your body count: "Despite eyewitness testimonies to the contrary, the U.S. military stands by its assertion that there were no civilian casualties in the firefight in Samarraon Sunday, as reported by Editor & Publisher Online. Continue »"

In Alternet: War On Iraq

U.S. Seeks to Cut Off Money to Guerrillas: "A spate of U.S. raids on Iraqi smugglers signals a new strategy to deny the guerrilla insurgency one of its chief recruiting assets: money. If U.S. military strategists are correct, the insurgency will soon face a financial crisis when old Iraqi dinar notes bearing the face of Saddam Hussein will be worthless. The military wants to deepen the crisis by launching raids on black marketeers thought to be funding the guerrilla movement. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Powell Hopes for More German Help in Iraq Next Year: "Secretary of State Colin Powell saidThursday he hoped that Germany, a fierce opponent of theU.S.-led war in Iraq, would feel able to give more help to thecountry when Iraqis are granted more control. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Correction: Vatican-Iraq Story: "In a Dec. 3 story about the election of the patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, The Associated Press, using information from the Vatican, erroneously reported his chosen name as Karim III. The Vatican said Thursday the correct name is Emmanuel III Delly. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Bush Plane Flew Under False Cover on Iraq Trip: "President Bush's flight plan wasfalsified last week to hide his Thanksgiving Day visit to Iraq,the White House said on Thursday, in another example of theextraordinary -- and deceptive -- steps taken in arranging thebattle-zone trip. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Israel: Syria still backing militants: "Israel brushed off signs Syria is ready to resume peace talks, saying Thursday the Damascus government continues to back militant groups like one Israel says was behind a suicide bombing attempt on a school."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Iraq war news updates
U.N. plans long-term monitoring of Iraq: "U.N. weapons inspectors are planning for possible monitoring of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile programs despite being barred from the country by the United States, according to a report to the U.N. Security Council."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

The Long Way Home: "The journey home from Iraq is long and painful for the more than 2,100 soldiers wounded there in the past eight months. David Martin set out to meet some of the wounded and share their stories."

In CBS News: Iraq Crisis

Assad calls Israel source of violence: "Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday accused the Israeli government of following "the policies of escalation and extremism," making the Middle East a more dangerous place."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Iraqis to Form Anti-Guerrilla Militia: "Iraqi political parties and coalition authorities are discussing the creation of a 1,000-member militia to bolster the U.S. military's fight against a guerrilla insurgency, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

White House: Geneva accord may be useful: "The architects of a far-reaching proposed accord between Israel and the Palestinians campaigned for Washington's approval Wednesday, but the White House said President Bush's blueprint for a Mideast settlement still was the best formula."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

U.S. May Have Just Missed Second Most Wanted Iraqi: "U.S. troops probably just missedcatching the second most wanted man in Iraq in a major raid,but seized important individuals among 54 suspected guerrillasdetained, the U.S. military said on Wednesday. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

A Look at U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq: "As of Wednesday, Dec. 3, 441 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 304 died as a result of hostile action and 137 died of non-hostile causes, the department said. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Homeless in Baghdad: "Six-year-old Ali, and Sa'id, 10, are grubbing through the rubbish piled up near their temporary home behind the bombed-out Iraqi air force club in the capital, Baghdad. They are part of a new community of sorts sheltering in unfinished buildings at the club's compound, near the national theatre in the heart of the city."

In Electronic Iraq

Coalition casualties accounted for (Updated 3rd of December) in IraqWar.ru (English)

Iraq war news updates
Report: Japan to Send Troops to Iraq: "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has approved a plan to start sending 1,000 troops for non-combat duty in Iraq by the end of December, a newspaper reported Thursday. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Saudi police arrest car bombing suspect: "Saudi police manned sandbagged checkpoints across the capital and guarded western compounds after a suspect in a recent suicide car bombing was arrested amid new warnings of possible attacks on foreigners here."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Shiite cleric new head of Iraq's council: "The new president of Iraq's Governing Council is a Shiite cleric and former militia leader who strongly objects to a key part of a U.S. plan to give sovereignty to Iraqis by July 1."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Shiite Cleric New Head of Iraq's Council: "The new president of Iraq's Governing Council is a Shiite cleric and former militia leader who strongly objects to a key part of a U.S. plan to give sovereignty to Iraqis by July 1. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Saddam withdrew one billion before US bombs fell: "Hours before the US-led war on Iraq began, the nation's former dictator Saddam Hussein withdrew more than one billion dollars from its central bank, funds US officials believe he and supporters are using today to support armed resistance to coalition forces, ABC News reported. (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Saudis withhold money for Iraq (04 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Rumsfeld Says Will Not Bargain for Support in Iraq: "Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hassaid there was no question of trading U.S. backing for enhancedEuropean defense capabilities for a pledge by France or Germanyto contribute peacekeeping troops for Iraq. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Body Armor Saves Lives in Iraq: "BAGHDAD -- Pfc. Gregory Stovall felt the explosion on his face. He was standing in the turret of a Humvee, manning a machine gun, when the roadside bomb went off. At the time, he was guarding a convoy of trucks making a mail run. (washingtonpost.com)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Kerry Denounces 'Inept' Bush Foreign Policy: "Senator John Kerry attacked President Bush for an "arrogant, inept, reckless" foreign policy and laid out a detailed plan for prosecuting the war on terrorism far differently."

In New York Times: World Special

Interview With Iraqi Resistance Cell: "OK, banal news day over. The Washington Times has this UPI article , the first in a two-part interview with members of an "anti-US Iraqi cell." A taste:
"They should have come and just given us food and some security," he said. "Even today I feel like I cannot drive my car at night because of Ali Baba (the Baghdad slang for criminals)."
"It was then I realized that they had come as occupiers and not as liberators," he says. "And my colleagues and I then voted to fight. So we began to meet and plan. We met with others and have tried to buy weapons. None of us are afraid to die, but it is hard. We are just men, workers, not soldiers."
And notably, they are not Baathists. Read the rest here .

In Command Post: Irak

Harrumph. Oh ... And Saddam Has $1 Billion On Hand: "That's what I say ... "Harrumph." Trollin' the news all day and it?s all soooo banal. Even we at TCP have slow news days, I suppose.
I did see this at Reuters , though:
Saddam Hussein withdrew more than $1 billion (580 million pounds) from Iraq's central bank hours before U.S. forces invaded, and some of the money may be funding the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. troops, ABC News has reported.
Quoting a letter purportedly written by Saddam and obtained by ABC News, and citing U.S. officials, ABC News said on Wednesday $132 million of funds withdrawn by the former Iraqi leader is unaccounted for and may be being used by his followers to fund attacks against U.S. forces.
ABC News said the handwritten letter from Saddam, dated March 19, 2003, was found by U.S. agents in the files of the Iraqi central bank, and obtained by ABC News.
So at least we have that going for us, which is nice.

In Command Post: Irak

US under pressure to back claims over Iraq firefight (4 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

American Dream, Super-Sized - Democracy cannot coexist with Bush's failed doctrine of preventive war (3 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Guard Unit Needs Shipping Funds | theledger.com

Guard Unit Needs Shipping Funds

The Florida National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 116th Artillery, headquartered in Lakeland, has plenty of packages and gifts for its 30 members in Iraq this season.

But it doesn't have the money to send them all.

The unit has 30 soldiers stationed in Iraq until at least the end of February. Officers with the headquarters said they try to ship items to them at least once a month. With Christmas approaching, it is even more important to get the packages mailed.

If you would like to contribute a small amount to help ship the items, you can bring a donation to the armory at 4140 Drane Field Road.

If you wish to send a check, make it payable to "Soldier Support Fund" and mail to Soldier Support Fund, 2/116th Field Artillery, 4140 Drane Field, Lakeland, FL 33811-1269. For more information contact Capt. Anthony Varner, the company commander, or Maj. Marty Nichols, Brigade liaison, at 648-3234.Guard Unit Needs Shipping Funds | theledger.com

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Newsday.com - Sampling of editorials from upstate New York

What could be as potentially threatening to America's ability to keep peace and wage war as terrorists falling on their sword _ in the form of suicide bombs _ may be something as simple as paychecks.

A recent General Accounting Office report found that in a survey of Army National Guard soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, 450 of 481 soldiers had trouble getting paid or receiving certain benefits.

One soldier reportedly was asked to submit documents to get his housing allowance and was advised that everything would be worked out. When he returned home, however, he was told it was too late to get the money. Another soldier was dispatched on a four-day trip through dangerous territory to try to straighten out pay mix-ups. In another case, 34 soldiers were mistakenly told they owed the government about $48,000 each.

Serving one's country during wartime is a great enough sacrifice. Soldiers should not have the added burden of wondering if they will get a paycheck _ especially those whose families are depending on the income. The fact that many of the problems seemed to be caused by simple accounting errors is truly sad.

The government must immediately correct these problems. With trouble spots growing around the world, it will be hard enough trying to entice people to serve their country. But what will make it harder still is the belief that when they do sign up, they may have to fight for America and fight for America to pay them.


The Watertown Daily Times on funding Lady Liberty:

Nov. 28

For two years now, Americans have been locked out of one of the best known monuments to their freedom, the Statue of Liberty. It was closed in the panicky aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Although other sites have slowly reopened as the country returns to normalcy, the 117-year-old statue remains closed until security can be tightened.

A number of steps have been taken to improve security around the statue and on Liberty Island, but visitors have been barred from entering the statue which houses a museum and observation areas. The government wants to add new exits at the statue monument and upgrade fire safety and emergency notification systems at an estimated cost of $5 million.

The National Park Service has taken measures to improve security and screen visitors outside the statue and to Ellis Island, but funds are not forthcoming for the additional repairs.

Absent federal funds, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said American Express has pledged $3 million and commissioned a television documentary on the statue for broadcast in January, copies of which will be sold for $100 each.

Folgers Coffee has also pledged $1 million. Even when it is reopened, visitors will be limited to the lower of two observation decks. They will be able to take an elevator or climb the 192 steps to an observation deck in the pedestal area; but the statue's crown, which is 22 stories high, and its torch will remain off limits.

"Many of America's and New York's sons and daughters are around the world fighting for the freedoms that the Statue of Liberty stands for," Mayor Bloomberg said. "They're continuing a war that started only a few blocks from here. The reopening of the Statue of Liberty is another way to show that we are going to win the war and that New York will always remain the world's second home."

Lady Liberty, a gift from France in 1886, has welcomed millions of immigrants to America's shores. The inscription at the base of the 151-foot-high statue expresses the hope held out to newcomers seeking opportunity for a better life in the United States.

The city should not have to depend on private donors to make the necessary improvements to the monument. The amount required is not significant in the overall federal budget.

Fear and caution prompted the closing of many places and buildings after Sept. 11. Some have closed permanently. But others have reopened after security measures were implemented. With federal assistance, the same should be done with the Statue of Liberty as soon as possible.


The Times Union of Albany on the USA Patriot Act:

Here come two more critics of a Bush administration anti-terrorism policy that presents such a threat to civil liberties. Two very unlikely critics, that is, who can't be so readily ignored.

They're Viet Dinh, who helped draft the USA Patriot Act while he worked for Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Michael Chertoff, who also served as a top Justice Department official. Both have added their very credible voices to the long list of civil libertarians and other legal observers who are concerned about the implications of the unconstitutional treatment accorded to Jose Padilla, an American citizen arrested in Chicago last year for allegedly planning to make a radiological bomb.

Mr. Padilla has spent the past 18 months locked up in a military brig without access to a lawyer. Not even Mr. Dinh, who has defended other post-Sept. 11 Bush administration policies on civil liberties grounds, can see the slightest hint of justice there. What alarms him, as he's explained in a series of speeches and a recent Los Angeles Times interview, is that the indefinite detainment of Mr. Padilla allows him no chance to respond to the charges against him. The Bush administration seems to think it has no legal duty to do so, Mr. Dinh complains.

Even those designated as "enemy combatants," as Mr. Padilla has been, have rights. An American citizen arrested on American soil, even on charges of conspiring with the al-Qaida terrorist network to trigger an explosives-and-radioactive attack, has the right to review the evidence against him. So, in fact, do all Americans.

"The President is owed significant deference as to when and how and what kind of process the person designated an enemy combatant is entitled to," Mr. Dinh told the Los Angeles Times. "But I do not think the Supreme Court would defer to the President when there is nothing to defer to. There must be an actual process or discernible set of procedures to determine how they will be treated."

Mr. Chertoff, who previously served as the head of the Justice Department's criminal division and now is a federal appeals judge, also says the treatment of accused combatants like Mr. Padilla must be re-examined. "We need to debate a long-term and sustainable architecture for the process of determining when, why and for how long someone may be detained as an enemy combatant, and what judicial review should be available," he said in a recent speech at the University of North Carolina Law School. These are not men of the political left, remember. They're former colleagues of Mr. Ashcroft himself.

How might the attorney general respond to arguments that he's discarding the principle of habeas corpus? What might President Bush say? Or all the senators who voted to confirm Mr. Ashcroft as attorney general, or all those in Congress who support the Patriot Act? As it happens, the word comes from an official Justice Department spokesman that the case of Mr. Padilla is off-limits as long as it's pending in court.

Sorry, not good enough. Not when what's actually pending in court is the very legality of detaining criminal suspects under the conditions Mr. Padilla finds himself incarcerated. Let's hear the government's argument for indefinite detention without legal representation. Oh, and pardon us if we interpret the lack of an argument as further evidence that there is no plausible argument.

Newsday.com - Sampling of editorials from upstate New York
Iraq war updates
DHL Resumes Flights, Service to Baghdad: "The global package delivery service DHL said Tuesday it had resumed flights to Baghdad, after one of its planes was hit by a missile on its approach to the airport. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

U.S. Forces Stage Massive Raid in Iraq: "U.S. troops north of the capital arrested at least 20 insurgents in a raid while workers began demolishing gigantic bronze busts of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on Tuesday - both moves aimed at stamping out loyalty to Iraq's ousted regime. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Today's U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq: "As of Tuesday, Dec. 2, 440 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 303 died as a result of hostile action and 137 died of non-hostile causes, the department said. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

AP: West Bank outposts slowly digging in: "Just six months after Israel committed to a peace plan requiring it to dismantle scores of illegal Jewish settlement outposts, an Associated Press inspection of 18 of the encampments found the settlers have expanded significantly."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Israeli to Powell: Skip Mideast meeting: "Israel's vice premier warned it would be a mistake for Secretary of State Colin Powell to meet organizers of an informal Mideast peace treaty. But Powell said Tuesday that just such a meeting is planned this week."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Bush's Baghdad-Bound Plane Was Spotted: "In a footnote to President Bush's surprise trip to Baghdad, the White House identified the location and time when Air Force One was spotted en route to Iraq last week by a British Airways pilot. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

NATO Allies to Stay Course in Iraq, Rumsfeld Says: "Despite recent attacks by insurgentson the forces of U.S. allies, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldsaid Tuesday that virtually all of the countries providingtroops for duty in Iraq have promised to keep them there. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Latest Iraq Attacks Test Allies' Resolve: "America's allies in Iraq, suddenly besieged by guerrilla attacks that until now targeted mostly U.S. forces, are also under fire at home from a public shaken by the mounting dangers. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Stressed out in Iraq - tired, terrified, trigger-happy (2 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

No freedom without free press (2 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

A combat leader gives the inside skinny of the biggest battle since the war ended (2 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Beyond bull (2 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Iraq row rages as Spain mourns in CNN - War in Iraq

Intelligence experts speak out against the war in a new documentary: "A slew of former CIA officials, ambassadors, weapons inspectors, and high ranking governmental figures testify to the illegality and sheer irrationality of the war in the hour-long documentary Uncovered that has been promoted by the Internet-based lobby group MoveOn. The various interviewees dissect the "intelligence" put forth by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union speech, and the fuzzy photos used in Colin Powell's February speech to the UN, which is described by one former intelligence expert as a piece of "theater.""

In Electronic Iraq

Palestinian killed, 2 homes fall in raids: "Israeli troops killed an armed Palestinian and blew up two houses of suspected militants Tuesday in their second West Bank raid in as many days."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Another Symbol of Hussein's Regime Comes Down: "An Iraqi construction crew is removing the four massive heads of Saddam Hussein, each three stories high, that sit atop the Republican Palace in Baghdad. (The New York Times)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Rumsfeld: NATO Allies to Remain in Iraq: "Nearly all of the NATO countries with troops in Iraq have pledged to remain there in 2004 to help stabilize and rebuild the country, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Idaho-Based Co. Halts Iraq Project: "A Boise-based engineering and construction company has suspended work on power line towers being built in northern Iraq because two engineers for a subcontractor were killed and two others wounded in a weekend attack. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Iraq's King of Clubs evades US capture: "US troops have denied reports that Saddam Hussein's right hand man - the King of Clubs in the most wanted list - had been captured."

In Ananova: War In Iraq

Annan meets with advisory group on Iraq: "Secretary-General Kofi Annan met his advisory group on Iraq for the first time today, a move aimed at persuading countries in the region to support the same approach to the post-conflict country."

In Electronic Iraq

Saudi, Kenya attacks possible, U.S. warns: "U.S. Embassies on Tuesday warned of possible terror attacks against two hotels in Kenya and a housing compound for Westerners in Saudi Arabia. Kenyan police said they were investigating reports that terrorists had packed a truck with explosives for an imminent attack."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Latest Iraq attacks test allies' resolve: "America's allies in Iraq, suddenly besieged by guerrilla attacks that until now targeted mostly U.S. forces, are also under fire at home from a public shaken by the mounting dangers."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Koizumi Adamant Japan Will Send Troops to Iraq: "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi insistedTuesday that Japan would send troops to help rebuild Iraq asdomestic media reported that ministerial approval could bedelayed after the death of two Japanese diplomats there. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Annan Organizes Group of Mideast Nations on Iraq: "Iraq's neighbors, includingIran, and Security Council members, including the UnitedStates, came together in a new grouping some delegates hopewill develop into an international conference on Iraq's future. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Hutton inquiry refuses to allow Blair to see report in advance: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair will have no advance warning of a report, expected early next year, into the death of British weapons expert David Kelly, London's Financial Times said. (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

U.S. Sees Lesson for Insurgents in an Iraq Battle: "Americans vowed that the killing of as many as 54 insurgents would serve as lesson, but Iraqis disputed the death toll."

In New York Times: World Special

Rumsfeld Calls Peril in Iraq, Along With Progress, a 'Contradiction': "Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that attacks continue to kill U.S. forces even as the economy stabilizes."

In New York Times: World Special

Bush Aides Say Attacks Won't Scare Allies Into Leaving Iraq: "Bush administration officials said that a wave of attacks would not succeed in scaring anyone away from securing Iraq."

In New York Times: World Special

For a Respite in Iraq, a Nickel Ride Across the Tigris: "The River Tigris is Baghdad's one oasis where no one fears car bombs and the traffic moves freely."

In New York Times: World Special

Arafat hails informal Mideast peace pact: "Yasser Arafat praised an informal Israeli-Palestinian peace pact, but violence persisted in the West Bank with an Israeli sweep through the town of Ramallah, where Arafat has his headquarters."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

No happily ever after for married soldiers: "Love does not conquer all, it seems."

In Back to Iraq 2.0

Jordan's king vows to transform Jordan: "Jordan's King Abdullah II pledged Monday to transform his nation into a model democratic state that can serve as an example to other Middle East nations."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Council In Iraq Resisting Ayatollah: "BAGHDAD, Dec. 1 -- A majority of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council has decided to support an American plan to select a provisional government through regional caucuses despite objections from the country's most powerful Shiite Muslim cleric, according to several council members. (washingtonpost.com)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

U.S. Troops Kill 54 Guerrillas in Iraq Firefight: "American troops killed 54guerrillas in a fierce battle to fight off coordinated ambusheson armored convoys carrying large quantities of banknotes inthe tense Iraqi town of Samarra, the U.S. Army said on Monday. (Reuters)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Battle Reveals New Iraqi Tactics: "SAMARRA, Iraq, Dec. 1 -- Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hollis knew there was trouble even before the shooting started. As he stood guard in his M1-A1 Abrams tank outside a bank in this Sunni Muslim town, the usually busy streets suddenly emptied Sunday. Men hurried down back alleys, some running. Women dragged their children away from the positions of U.S. troops. (washingtonpost.com)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Dutch protest against visit Colin Powell: "Some 1,000 people protesting against Colin Powell's visit to the Netherlands and the occupation of Iraq and Palestine gathered in the Dutch town of Maastricht ahead of a meeting of the the European security body, the OSCE."

In Electronic Iraq

It's time to get moving: "It's time to go back. Back to Iraq."

In Back to Iraq 2.0

Iraqis deny US accounts of fierce fight with 'guerrillas' (2 Dec 03) in Radio Free USA

Poll: Iraqis distrusting coalition troops: "Nearly four out of five Iraqis have little or no confidence in occupying U.S. and British forces, but more than 40 percent said the fall of Saddam Hussein was the best thing that happened to them in the past year, according to a poll published Monday."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Soldier faces discharge for Iraq marriage: "An American soldier has been reprimanded and will be discharged for taking a break from a foot patrol in Baghdad to marry an Iraqi woman, his lawyer said Monday."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Senate Dems Rip Bush on Iraq, Afghanistan: "Two Democratic senators just back from Iraq and Afghanistan predicted on Monday possible disastrous consequences from the Bush administration's policies for political and economic recovery in both countries. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

U.S., Iraqi police dispute death toll in ambushes in CNN - War in Iraq

Putin demands early Iraq elections in CNN - War in Iraq

Bush remains firm on Iraq transition plan: "The Bush administration is holding to the terms of its plan for transition to Iraqi rule by the end of next June, despite rumblings of Shiite disapproval."

In Seattle Post-Intelligencer: War on Iraq

Shiite Assumes Rotating Iraqi Presidency: "Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite Muslim leader who has criticized U.S.-led plans for Iraqi sovereignty, assumed the rotating presidency of the Governing Council on Monday amid discussions about how to select a transitional government. (AP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

Bloodshed, religious politics put US Iraq policy on spot: "Despite vows of no surrender in Iraq, the United States has been thrust into a painful military dilemma by a swelling insurgency, days after a top Shiite cleric ambushed its new political strategy. (AFP)"

In Yahoo! News: War with Iraq

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