US media ignores 7th anniversary of Iraq War as US soldier is killed by grenade

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March 20th marks the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.   The day before, a 26-year old soldier from Milwaukee,  Robert Rieckhoff — father of an 8-year old son and a 4-year old daughter — was killed in Iraq after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the watchtower where he was on guard duty.

Today, the US still has 96,000 troops stationed in Iraq — about the number as in March 2003. (In the interim, more than 2 million American troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan).

It is still costing the US taxpayer around $7 billion per month for us to be in Iraq.  To date, we have spent close to $1 trillion in upfront out-of-pocket costs — but the war will cost at least $2 trillion more, when we include the cost of  paying for veterans disability compensation, veterans health care, replacement of armaments, and damage to the US economy.  Oil prices were $23 barrel when we invaded Iraq — they are now close to $80 barrel,  and have reached $130 barrel at their peak.

Since 2003, more than 4385 US troops have died, 315 coalition troops, and 100,000 or more Iraqis, depending on how you count.   More than 80,000 Americans have been wounded, injured or contracted a disease that required them to be evacuated from the war zone.

Of the 1 million Americans who have served and returned home as veterans, more than 40% have applied for disability compensation and been treated at VA medical facilities.  Numerous peer-reviewed medical studies have reported that there is an  “epidemic” of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and also an epidemic  of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) among troops returning from combat.

The situation in Iraq remains unstable.  Of the more than 2 million Iraqis who fled the country during the civil war,  fewer than 15% have returned.  Tension remains high among the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish populations, and the country still suffers from frequent suicide bombings, kidnappings and other violent crimes.

The US media has been largely focused on the health care vote and has given little coverage to the situation in Iraq as the US passes into the 8th year of military engagement.

GAO blocks expansion of Afghan Police training contract to Blackwater (Xe)

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Despite the numerous problems that have been discovered with Blackwater contracts and subcontracts  — ranging from poor electrical wiring that electrocuted several soldiers in the shower to allegations of fraud, profiteering, waste and abuse — the US government continues to spend billions of dollars per year with this contractor.   The reason is that Blackwater (now operating under a variety of aliases and the new name “Xe”) has made itself indispensable to the war effort, particularly in training of local police and armed forces.  Blackwater/Xe recruits a number of retired US troops and special forces, pays them a premium, and has positioned itself as a critical intermediary (some would call it “mercenary”)  supplemental force in the region.

It is a sign of just how bad things are that the GAO today blocked  the Army’s plans to award a $1 billion training program for Afghan police officers to Blackwater/Xe,  — upholding complaints from Dyncorp and other companies who said they were unfairly excluded from bidding on the job. This unprecedented moves follows protests by Senator Carl Levin, who pointed out the numerous abuses in which Blackwater/Xe has been implicated.

The decision will still make it possible for Blackwater to win a portion of the contract for overseeing training for the Afghan National Police when it is re-bid — but probably it will have a smaller role. The ruling makes it  unclear who will oversee training of the Afghan  Police, a poorly equipped, 90,000-strong paramilitary force that will inherit the task of preserving order in the country after NATO troops depart. Read article:

Suicide bombings in Iraq continue to target civilians

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In the run-up to March 7th elections, a string of suicide bombings across Iraq have continued to target civilians and cause widespread disruptions.  Yesterday’s terrible bombing killed dozens of civilians including blowing up a hospital where victims were being treated.

Since August, a series of large-scale bombings aimed at government buildings have killed several hundred people and shaken confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security services, following the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces from major Iraqi cities last summer.

The number of Iraqis killed in February was twice as high as in January and 40% higher than a year earlier. The ongoing violence deters many of the 2 million Iraqi refugees — many of them middle class professionals now living in Syria — from returning to Iraq.