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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Marines in Iraq

IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN: American casualties total 500,000, counting injury and disease, writer claims

UstroopsiraqAP_450x250 Here's an eye-popping number:

A blogger and writer claims American military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan now exceed 500,000. 

That's if you count certain injuries and diseases including mental illness that he alleges the Department of Defense doesn't include in its official combat-related casualty toll in an effort to soften U.S. military losses in the wars and win funding for them from the Congress.

For example, cases of traumatic brain injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are excluded from the official list of casualties. 

"Under this scheme, chronic injuries and many acute internal injuries such as hearing impairment, back injuries, mild traumatic brain injuries, mental health problems and a host of diseases suffered by personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are usually not counted as being war-related regardless of how debilitating they are," writes Matthew Nasuti in an article published on the Afghan news site and media organization Kabul Press. "They are either generally lumped into the category of 'non-hostile wounded' or simply not counted at all."

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IRAQ: Journalist who hurled shoes at President Bush says stunt had been carefully planned

DSC01777 When Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi stood up from his seat and hurled his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush during a December 2008 news conference in Baghdad, shouting "dog" at him, he was hailed as a hero by many in the Arab world and left many others stunned by what appeared to be a spontaneous act of anger.

But in an exclusive interview with Babylon & Beyond, Zaidi said the stunt was something he had carefully planned for years.

"I had decided on it a while ago," Zaidi told the blog during a recent interview in Beirut. 

"This is new information that hasn't been told before," he said. "I was just waiting for the right opportunity. I was checking every visit that he [Bush] made so I could bring the Iraqi people's justice upon him. I left my will at my brother's house and told him to open it if I die. I recorded a five-minute long tape four years ago in which I say that I will hit George Bush with a shoe as soon as I get the opportunity. I left it with my brother telling him that, 'If I die, you bring it up and expose it to the world.'"

Iraq's central criminal court sentenced Zaidi to three years in prison for assaulting a visiting head of state, but the judiciary later shortened his sentence to one year. A few months after that ruling, the judiciary ordered that he be freed. Since his release in September 2009, Zaidi has put his journalistic career on hold and instead has engaged himself in humanitarian work by setting up the Al Zaidi Foundation, a human rights organization for Iraqi civilians affected by the war. 

Dividing his time between Switzerland and Lebanon, he also keeps busy by giving lectures in Europe and the Middle East on the situation in Iraq and lobbying actively for Bush to be indicted on war crimes charges for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. 

What happened on the day of the news conference?

I went over the bridge in Baghdad and watched the Tigris river and the sun. I said goodbye to the river I love so much and was thinking that this could be last time I see the sunset. I was boiling when he [Bush] came into the room. I saw his red face from all the blood of the Iraqis who had perished. Like a vampire. He had eyes like Dracula. I had made sure to put on old and worn-out shoes to show the worth of him. I told him [Bush] 'this is the goodbye kiss.' Everybody was shocked, even the security, which didn't come until I threw the second shoe. After the second [shoe], they all came and attacked me.

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IRAQ: 'I will not answer any questions,' former Marine tells court-martial.

Jose99When former Marine Sgt. Jose Luis Nazario was on trial for allegedly killing Iraqi prisoners, Sgt. Ryan Weemer refused to testify, despite being given immunity and being threatened with a contempt of court citation and jail sentence.

On Thursday, Nazario did the same for Weemer: refusing to answer questions during a court-martial proceeding at Camp Pendleton in which Weemer stands accused of unpremeditated murder and dereliction of duty in the same incident.

"With all due respect, I will not answer any questions," Nazario repeatedly told the prosecutor, according to a story in the North (San Diego) County Times by military writer Mark Walker.

"You have to answer," the judge told Nazario.

Exasperated, the prosecutor finally gave up. "It's futile, given his recalcitrance," the prosecutor said.

Nazario was acquitted in federal court in Riverside last August. Weemer's court-martial continues today and may go to the jury of eight Marines early next week.

-- Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: Former Marine Sgt. Luis Nazario. Credit: Associated Press

IRAQ: Fallouja hero now on trial for murder


When the November 2004 battle for Fallouja was over, Marine Cpl. Ryan Weemer was lauded as one of its heroes. Wounded in the battle for what Marines called Hell House, Weemer was praised for bravery and resourcefulness.

Now, nearly five years later, he's on trial, facing murder charges in the shooting of an Iraqi prisoner on the first day of the battle. At his court martial Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, 26-year-old Weemer, now a sergeant, testified he is tormented by that killing but that he was only following orders.

The full story

Tony Perry, Camp Pendleton

Photo: Sgt. Ryan Weemer. Credit; Associated Press.

IRAQ: 'You have to kill them'


A key part of President Obama's strategy for Afghanistan announced Friday is for the U.S. to persuade   "moderate" elements in the insurgency to separate from the hard-core jihadis.

Much of the U.S. success in Iraq is attributed to the decision of the Sunni Arab tribal sheiks in Anbar province to turn against the insurgency in their country and make common cause with the United States.  The U.S. then hired many former insurgent fighters for the Sons of Iraq force.

But no one should expect the process in Afghanistan to be quick, easy or accomplished without further fighting. Not if the Marines' experience in Iraq is any indication.

"There is a certain element: you have to kill them," Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who just completed a year as the top Marine in Iraq, told a San Diego civic group this week. "After that, reasonable men and women will come to the table."

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marines in Iraq. Credit: Marine Corps

IRAQ: Recordings and now a street name to keep Marine's memory alive

Iraqmarinewedding The City Council in Lincoln, Neb., has voted unanimously to rename a street after Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Scholl, who was killed in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2006.

Scholl, who was 21, grew up in Lincoln. His mother and stepfather, Debbie and Jack Chandler, still live there.

Jack Chandler told reporters that he hoped the street name would keep the memory of his stepson alive. The street, in the neighborhood where Scholl lived, leads to an elementary school.

Formal dedication of Mike Scholl Street is Sunday.

Scholl, assigned to the Hawaii-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, had served in Afghanistan and was within a few weeks of coming home from Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.

His widow, Melissa, lives in Vancouver, Wash. Their daughter, Addison Rose, was born a month before Scholl was killed.

Scholl had made audio recordings of children's stories to be played to Addison in the event he did not return from Iraq, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Lance Cpl. Mike Scholl with bride Melissa on their wedding day in 2005. Credit: Honolulu Advertiser

IRAQ: Court upholds dismissal of charges against Marine colonel in Haditha killings

Hadithamarine A military appeals court today upheld the dismissal of war crimes charges against Marine Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking Marine charged in the 2005 killing of 24 civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

The court agreed with a military judge at Camp Pendleton who ruled in June that there was the appearance of “undue command influence” because a Marine lawyer who investigated the case sat in on meetings where the Haditha killings were discussed with the general who made the decision to charge Chessani and seven other Marines.

The Marine Corps can appeal today’s decision to a higher level of military appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Chessani ruling could lead to a similar dismissal of charges against Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader on the day that Marines swept through houses looking for insurgents after a roadside bomb killed one Marine and injured two. Wuterich’s lawyer has a similar dismissal motion pending.

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IRAQ: Video of U.S. military's 'motivational' speech a hit on Internet

A new video purporting to show a U.S. officer giving a "motivational speech" to "lazy" Iraqi police is an instant hit on YouTube, with nearly 300,000 views and more than 1,300 comments.

The comments are expectedly heated: Some think the U.S. officer is giving a much-needed, if quite foulmouthed, wake-up call to slackers who should be taking responsibility for their own country, and others are angered that an "occupying" force is lecturing a country that it invaded on how to run things.

Warning, lots of swearing.

-- Times staff

IRAQ: President Obama: 'These two young Marines stood their ground'


In his speech Friday outlining plans for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, President Obama also paid tribute to two Marines posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for thwarting a suicide bomber: Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale.

"These young men enlisted in time of war, knowing they would face great danger. They came here, to Camp Lejeune, as they trained for their mission. And last April they were standing guard in Anbar.

"In an age when suicide is a weapon, they were suddenly faced with an oncoming truck filled with explosives. These two young Marines stood their ground. These two Marines opened fire. And these two Marines stopped that truck.

"When the thousands of pounds of explosives detonated, they had saved 50  Marines and Iraqi police  who would have been in the truck's path, but Cpl. Yale and Lance Cpl. Haerter lost their own lives."

After his speech, Obama met with members of the Yale and Haerter families.

--Tony Perry, San Diego

Photo: President Obama at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Credit: Associated Press.

IRAQ: Marine set for court-martial on charge of killing prisoner in Fallouja


The court-martial of Sgt. Jermaine Nelson begins Tuesday at Camp Pendleton. Nelson is charged with murder in the death of an unarmed prisoner during the battle in Fallouja in November 2004.

Nelson confessed to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent in 2007 that he killed a prisoner at the order of his squad leader, then-Sgt. Jose Nazario.

Last year, Nelson refused to testify to a federal grand jury investigating Nazario's role in the death of four prisoners. Not even a stint behind bars for contempt of court could make him talk.

When Nazario went to trial last summer on manslaughter charges in Riverside federal court, Nelson again refused to testify, even though he was assured none of his testimony could be used against him in his court-martial.

Nazario had left the Marine Corps when word of the alleged murders surfaced and thus could not be tried in a military court. He was acquitted by the civilian jurors, some of whom said they felt unequipped to second-guess an action taken during combat.

If he chooses a jury trial, rather than judge-only, Nelson will have both enlisted personnel and officers on the panel, most likely all combat veterans of Iraq.

Facing a separate court-martial is Sgt. Ryan Weemer. Weemer's admissions to a Secret Service employee during a job interview started the investigation that led to charges against him, Nelson and Nazario.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Sgt. Jermaine Nelson. Credit: Los Angeles Times

IRAQ: Departing general praises progress, eulogizes those who died.


In his farewell after 12 months as the top Marine in Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly said he is proudest of the progress in Anbar province achieved not through strength of arms but through a partnership with the Iraqis.

"What I am very proud of is the number of human beings we did not have to kill because we never stopped extending the hand of friendship even in the darkest days gone by," Kelly said, "and the damage we didn't do because we resorted to force last, and always restrained its use when we did go to the guns."

Kelly is set to be relieved Monday as commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and its 22,000 troops. He will return later in the week to Camp Pendleton.

Kelly listed as successes a number of economic development projects and the recent provincial election "without a single accusation of fraud, without a single violent incident."

It was Kelly's third assignment to Iraq. He was assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division during the assault on Baghdad and Tikrit in 2003 and then the battle in Fallouja in 2004.

While praising his troops, Kelly had a few darts for naysayers back home and invited them to Anbar to see the progress. "We fought here in the unimaginable heat of Iraq's summer, and they criticized," Kelly said. "We walked the most dangerous streets in the world hunting the most murderous men on earth, and they slept safely at home in their beds."

And in an emotional conclusion, Kelly listed the 28 troops in his command who were killed in the last year.

"I will think about them for the rest of my life because I failed to bring them home," he said. "I will never forget them, or their families.... I still thank God there were so few this time."

--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly. Credit: Marine Corps

IRAQ: Congressman wonders why all Medal of Honor awards were posthumous


One of the mysteries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan involves the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest commendation for bravery.

Why have there been so few awards (four for Iraq and one for Afghanistan)? And why have all five been posthumous? In World War II, the posthumous figure for Medals of Honor was 57% and in Vietnam 38%.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, sent a letter this week to President Obama asking for a "thorough examination" of the Medal of Honor selection process.

"I am concerned that either knowingly or inadvertently, the Medal of Honor awards process is becoming biased to only acts of valor that result in the death of the service member," Hunter wrote.

". . . The selflessness and combat heroism that is represented by the Medal of Honor must be preserved for future generations."

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Marine Capt. Duncan Hunter in Iraq. Credit: Hunter family


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