Monday, June 2, 2008
Improvements Continue in Iraq
Even the New York Times is forced to admit that things have substantially improved in Iraq. During the entire war, American soldiers have succeeded in making untold personal connections with the Iraqi people. Many of us still worry about the safety of our Iraqi friends. (Above photo is me with Kurdish children in northern Iraq in 2004.)
This article includes a discussion of the on-going status of forces agreement negotiations between Iraq and the United States and the pull-out of Australian forces:
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New York Times
June 2, 2008
U.S. Deaths In Iraq Fell Sharply In May
By Andrew E. Kramer
BAGHDAD — American deaths in the Iraq war dropped to 19 in May, their lowest monthly level since the invasion in 2003, the United States military said Sunday, though officials said they were reluctant to highlight the number as a milestone.
There have been troughs in American casualty rates before, only to be followed by increases. Just on Sunday, an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad.
The military has instead focused on falling rates of enemy attacks, among other indicators, as a measure of improving security.
Even amid the news of declining deaths, there was a setback on Sunday to efforts to negotiate a long-term security pact that would set out how long American forces stay in Iraq. The Iraqi government criticized proposals from American negotiators and vowed to reject any deal that violated Iraqi sovereignty.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been under political pressure to resist some American demands. Street protesters loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr burned American flags on Friday to oppose the deal, and Mr. Sadr promised that his followers would stage regular protests through the summer.
The pact, called a status of forces agreement, would address the future of American bases in Iraq, immunity for American soldiers and security contractors, the power of American troops to detain Iraqis and conduct military operations, and control of Iraqi airspace.
A United Nations resolution that authorizes the presence of American troops in Iraq expires in December, and the world body is not expected to take the issue up again, leaving it to the United States and Iraq to work out for themselves.
Along with Mr. Sadr, the main Shiite political parties in Mr. Maliki’s government have come out against key elements of the proposed agreement sought by the Americans. But Kurds support a strong American military presence, and some Sunni Arab politicians support the pact because they see the United States military as a bulwark against the rising power of the Shiite majority in Iraq.
“The Iraqi side has a vision and a draft different from the American vision and American draft,” the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a statement. “The Iraqi government is focusing on preserving the complete sovereignty of Iraqi land, Iraqi sky and Iraqi water.”
The foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, meeting with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, in Iraq on Sunday, said the government would study agreements in Germany, Japan and Turkey allowing American bases there. “Negotiations will continue,” said Mr. Zebari, a Kurd.
Mr. Kouchner, who said earlier that France would cooperate with the Iraqi government in the future, though it had opposed the American-led invasion, used the visit to praise security gains in Iraq, saying he had noticed “huge improvements.”
Last week, the American military released statistics showing that overall attacks had dropped to their lowest level over a one-week period since March 2004, before the Sunni uprising flared in western Iraq.
The 19 American deaths in May were a steep drop from the 52 fatalities the previous month, when the American military was supporting an Iraqi Army operation to quell an uprising in the Sadr City district of Baghdad.
Of the 19 service members who died in May, 14 were listed as killed in action, four were noncombat deaths and one died in the United States after being wounded in combat in Iraq.
The United States lost the highest number of service members in a single month in November 2004, when 137 were killed, coinciding with the Marine assault of the western city of Falluja, according to icasualties.org, a group that tracks American deaths in the war.
May’s low death toll was not the first such dip during the war. In September 2003, 31 soldiers died; in March 2005, 35 died; and in March 2006, 31 soldiers died.
In total, 4,083 American service members have died during the war, and at least 29,000 others have been wounded.
Meanwhile, Australia, an early supporter of the war, announced that its combat operations in Iraq had ended on Sunday and that its troops were on the way home. The withdrawal fulfills an election pledge by the new prime minister, Kevin Rudd. Polls show that more than three-quarters of Australians oppose the war, Reuters reported. Australia will maintain its roughly 1,000-soldier force in Afghanistan.
The troops will return over several weeks. Australia will leave two surveillance planes, a ship to patrol oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and soldiers to guard diplomats, the government said.
Britain, the largest contributor of foreign troops to the Iraq war after the United States, retains about 4,000 soldiers in southern Iraq. This spring, it suspended a gradual drawdown during an Iraqi Army-led military operation against Shiite militias in Basra.
Qais Mizher and Suadad al-Salhy contributed reporting.
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SFC Chuck Grist