Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Last Few Days in Uniform

When I was a young soldier in Officer Candidate School back in 1969, the oldest man in our class was a guy named Callahan. The “old” man was a thirty-two-year-old sergeant first class, but he was also a combat veteran with multiple awards for valor, several Purple Hearts and a variety of other awards.

Naturally, since he was the oldest officer candidate in the class, all of us youngsters gave Callahan a mighty hard time. He was a tough guy and he would stare us down and tell us, “Don’t worry, kids; you’ll be where I am some day.”

Well, I not only reached his age, but I have almost doubled it. Since I will turn sixty in February, my somewhat disjointed, off-and-on Army “career” is finally coming to an end. There is a bittersweet quality about it, but I know it’s almost time to take the uniform off for the last time.

I am blessed to have met and/or served with veterans who fought in America’s wars from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. I have lost count of the number of uniform changes over the years, but I have a few examples of each one. The duffle bags in my attic are filled with old “fatigues” from basic training, jungle fatigues from Vietnam and all the other versions up to the Army Combat Uniform (ACU) of today. In over thirty years of total service, I have shared both good and bad times with the men and women of the active Army, the Army Reserve or the Florida Army National Guard.

It’s only natural that I always carry the memories of American soldiers I knew who died in combat. I’ve touched names on the Vietnam wall in Washington, D.C. of kids who died as teenagers or older soldiers who left wives and children waiting at home. I’ve known young men and women who entered the deserts of Iraq with determination and courage whose futures were ended before they began. I will forever feel the empty spaces inside my soul for the shortened lives of my comrades, for the parents who never saw their “babies” alive again and for the children who never knew the heroic souls that were their moms or dads.

There are many soldiers who have seen more wars than me or who have experienced worse episodes of combat. Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore (We Were Soldiers Once and Young) and his First Cav troopers at LZ X-ray come to mind as an example of warriors who ventured far deeper into the pit than I.

Still, I have managed to evade Death in two separate wars. The bullets, mortars, rockets and even the crash landing of an airplane failed to take me out. I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have survived my two tours without so much as a scratch. Unlike others, I don’t carry the external scars of war, but I guess all of us have a few of the internal scars. Regardless, we remain members of America’s warrior class and we consider our service a source of pride that we will carry with us to our graves.

Next week is my last week in uniform. On December 3 (the fortieth anniversary of my enlistment in the Army in 1968), I have one last medical exam. The next day I will out-process and begin my terminal leave which will last until January 31, 2009. I will return to police work on February 1 and my Army retirement is effective a month later when I - it’s still hard to say – turn SIXTY.

A handful of Vietnam veterans continue to serve in the military and some of them are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish them well, but I also wish I could be with them. I’m the last Vietnam veteran in my Army Reserve unit and I don’t mind saying that there’s a bit of pride in being the last old guy in my battalion. (The above picture is what the young lieutenant looked like just before he left for the ‘Nam.)

As my ancestors did before me, I leave the military to a younger, capable force of dedicated men and women. Our nation is in good hands and one day these youngsters will also hand off the defense of America to their own children and grandchildren. “Old soldiers never die,” said General Douglas MacArthur, “they just fade away.”

The “American Ranger” blog will continue, although it will probably become more of an “old retired soldier’s” blog. I will still write about the heroic men and women of our military services and I will vigorously defend our liberties with the pen (or the computer keyboard). However, the day will never come when I am unwilling to pick up the sword once again in the defense of my beloved America.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me in my military service over several decades. I honor each of you as well as the families of our warriors. I will continue to support all that you do for our veterans in whatever way I can.

May God bless America’s warriors, their families and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

“This is Cobra One, out…”

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Islamic Terrorists Murder More Innocents in Mumbai

We extend our sympathies to the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (Bombay), India. This brutal assault is just more evidence that the War on Terror is a world-wide struggle – the first world war of the twenty-first century. (The above photo is from the Associated Press.)

Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are cowardly thugs who slither around like snakes on behalf of a new and vicious type of fascism. Sadly, this threat against innocent men, women and children will surely continue throughout the world for many years to come.

Although tensions have increased between India and Pakistan because of these attacks, it makes no sense to believe that the government of Pakistan had anything to do with it. The Pakistanis have enough problems with terrorists in their own country. Although we may discover that these killers were based or trained in Pakistan, I can’t believe the Islamabad government is complicit in any way.

This is an interesting article from the Associated Press on who the bad guys in this incident may be:

* * * *

Clues point to domestic terrorists in India

Associated Press

LONDON -The attack on India's financial capital bears all the trademarks of al-Qaida — simultaneous assaults meant to kill scores of Westerners in iconic buildings — but clues so far point to homegrown Indian terrorists, global intelligence officials said Thursday.

Spy agencies around the world were caught off guard by the deadly attack, in which gunmen sprayed crowds with bullets, torched landmark hotels and took dozens of hostages.

"We have been actively monitoring plots in Britain and abroad and there was nothing to indicate something like this was about to happen," a British security official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.

Britain is the former colonial power in India and Pakistan and closely monitors terrorist suspects in those countries.

In some ways, the attack illustrated just how fluid terror tactics have become since Sept. 11 — and how the threat has become more global. Al-Qaida's leaders on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border still provide inspiration but groups are becoming increasingly local.

The group that claimed responsibility, Deccan Mujahideen, was unknown to global security officials. The name suggested the group was Indian.

One of the suspects reportedly called an Indian television station, speaking the main Pakistani language of Urdu, to demand the return of Muslim lands. That was a reference to Kashmir, territory claimed by both India and Pakistan.

But Ajai Sahni, head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management who has close ties to India's police and intelligence, said the attack was a departure from past assaults waged over Kashmir. Other such attacks had targeted Indian legislators, not Westerners.

Security officials said it was too soon to make a connection to Pakistan.

"It would be premature ... to reach any hard-and-fast conclusions on who may be responsible for the attacks, but some of what we're seeing is reminiscent of past terrorist operations undertaken by groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed," a U.S. counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Pakistani militant groups linked to al-Qaida who have fought Indian troops in Kashmir.

Another British security official told the AP on condition of anonymity that the attack doesn't look to have been directed by al-Qaida's core leadership, which has been weakened by the deaths of several leaders and key operatives in recent months.

Al-Qaida's core leadership is believed to be fewer than 100 people now, said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al-Qaida" and a terrorism expert at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

The British security official said it appeared the attack was inspired by Islamic extremist ideology and al-Qaida propaganda popular among radicalized youths. Many of the attackers in the Mumbai assault were young. Gunaratna said he believed the group that carried out Wednesday's attack was the Indian Mujahideen, responsible for past attacks in Mumbai.

The word "Deccan" refers to a plateau in southern India. "Mujahideen" refers to holy warriors.

"The earlier generation of terrorist groups in India were mostly linked to Pakistan," Gunaratna told the AP. "But today we are seeing a dramatic change. They are almost all homegrown groups. ... They are very angry and firmly believe that India is killing Muslims and attacking Islam."

British-based Jane's Information Group said it thought the attackers could be Indian but that taking hostages suggested a wider anti-Western agenda.

"Until now, terrorist attacks in India have targeted civilians, often in busy market or commercial areas, and in communally sensitive areas with the intention to foment unrest between Hindu and Muslim communities," said Urmila Venugopalan, Jane's South Asia analyst.

"This stands in contrast to the national issues that appeared to motivate Indian Mujahideen," Venugopalan said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed "external forces" but stopped short of blaming Pakistan. Both are nuclear-armed countries.

In September, a massive suicide truck bomb devastated the Marriott Hotel in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, killing at least 54 people, including three Americans and the Czech ambassador.

"This type of terrorism is spreading, through Pakistan and now India, but we were all surprised by such a large-scale attack like this," said Wajid Hassan, Pakistan's High Commissioner in London. "This is no coincidence that this type of attack happened so soon after the bombing of the Marriott Hotel. People from all countries are being paid to fight this al-Qaida war. This is a war that goes beyond any nationality."

Sahni, however, said "very preliminary investigations and intelligence information would suggest that some groups based in Pakistan are the most likely.

"If there is Indian participation, it's most likely to be Students' Islamic Movement of India," he said, referring to a radical student group banned in India in 2001.
Indian intelligence officials were also investigating whether Mumbai's criminal underworld could be involved.

"It's a possibility," Sahni said. "When we say Mumbai underworld we're talking of Dawood Ibrahim."

Ibrahim is one of India's most wanted men and also the alleged mastermind behind bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that killed 257 people. He has reportedly fled Mumbai, and police now believe he lives in Pakistan. Pakistani officials have denied this.

Associated Press writers Pamela Hess in Washington, Gregory Katz and David Stringer in London, Lee Keath in Cairo and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

* * * *

President Bush has indicated his support for India in the investigation of these attacks. Hopefully, we can act as a bridge to get India and Pakistan to work together.

Charles M. Grist

Friday, November 28, 2008

Marine Vietnam Vet Awarded Silver Star After 40 Years

It’s always nice to see a fellow Vietnam veteran (and fellow cop) honored, even if it’s long past due:

* * * *

Orlando-area man receives Silver Star for Vietnam heroics 40 years later

Gary Taylor
Staff Writer
Orlando Sentinel
November 28, 2008

For decades, Frank Ambrose never questioned why he didn't receive a medal for a firefight in Vietnam that killed or wounded everyone in his 15-man patrol.

After all, a medal wouldn't bring back the friends he lost that day outside Da Nang when his group of Marines stumbled upon two battalions of the North Vietnamese Army.

"We didn't care about medals back then," Ambrose said. "That was the last thing on our minds."

The enemy soldiers were just as surprised as the outnumbered Americans that day -- Feb. 7, 1968 -- which might be the reason Ambrose lived to talk about the ordeal and to hold the Silver Star he was recently awarded 40 years late.

About half his patrol was killed that day, including the Marines on either side of Ambrose when a rocket-propelled grenade hit as they took cover in a roadside ditch. "It blew all three of us out of the ditch."

He was hit above the eye by shrapnel that is still there. "My face was covered with blood," he said.

"I was the only one left conscious in the front group," he said, recalling how he stood his ground with a machine gun until another group of Marines arrived, alerted by a call from the patrol's radio man just as the attack began.

Although Da Nang was attacked by the North Vietnamese Army, it was the only major city in South Vietnam that didn't suffer a major attack, and Ambrose thinks it was because his patrol interrupted the enemy as they were preparing to launch it.

"If they had known we were coming, they would have set up a better ambush for us," he said.

But neither side was ready for the battle. "My flak vest was open," Ambrose said.

"I just opened up," he said, firing "every place I saw a muzzle flash."

At one point, so many bullets were hitting the ground in front of Ambrose that it felt as though his face was being sandblasted.

Gathering ammo from fallen Marines, Ambrose fired for 30 to 40 minutes before the first medevac helicopter arrived. "I was told to get on it," he recalled.

Instead, he got more ammunition and continued firing. He watched as more than 20 enemy soldiers ran across a dike in a rice paddy, and he shot as many of them as he could.

A somber expression crossed Ambrose's face as he talked about that.

"Every one of them had mothers, dads, sisters, brothers. That's something to think about."

When a second helicopter arrived, Ambrose climbed aboard. He could see enemy soldiers running, so he got ammunition from the helicopter's gunner and continued shooting.

"I just opened up on them," he said. "I don't know whether I hit anybody or not. I shot till I got out of range."

Soon after Ambrose arrived at a hospital, a one-star general and a gunnery sergeant showed up with a tape recorder to ask him about the firefight and told him he had been recommended for a medal. The award never came, and Ambrose never asked about it. At the time, he was a private first class, but Ambrose left the military a lance corporal.

After his discharge, Ambrose returned to Central Florida and spent more than 20 years in law enforcement, most of it with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. He and his wife of 28 years, Barbara, live in Longwood. They have two sons, both in the Air Force.

About four years ago, Ambrose attended a military reunion and ran into one of the Marines he helped save during the firefight. The man asked what medal Ambrose received, and Ambrose told him he didn't get one.

"The next thing I know, the colonel was talking to me," Ambrose said.

That was Col. William K. Rockey, his retired battalion commander, who never knew that Ambrose didn't receive the Silver Star for his actions that day.

Earlier this year, Ambrose, 60, received a phone call telling him the president had given him the award.

"They asked me where I wanted to receive it," said Ambrose, who asked if it could just be mailed to him.

Not hardly, he was told. "They told me I could pick any military base in the world."

Ambrose had never been back to Parris Island, S.C., where he reported as a recruit, so that was his choice.

In September, with a 40-member Marine Corps band playing, and with all the pomp and pageantry he likes to avoid, Ambrose received his medal.

A lot had changed in 40 years. The first time Ambrose was at Parris Island, he walked around with a drill sergeant's nose stuck to the back of his head, Ambrose said.

"This time I was the guest of the commanding general for four days."

Gary Taylor can be reached at or 386-851-7910.

* * * *

Congratulations to former lance corporal and retired law enforcement officer Frank Ambrose.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Message from Afghanistan - From Aaron Self of the C.O.B.R.A. Team

As a follow-up to my earlier post on Thanksgiving, I wanted all of my readers to see the following email I received from Aaron Self (Cobra Two from my Iraq tour). He gave me permission to post it, but it is one of the most heart-felt messages I have received from a war zone. (Aaron is pictured above in a recent photo.)

I must tell you that Aaron is a proud Texan and dedicated American who is also one of the finest men I have ever known. He and his wife, Kristi (who is deployed to another war zone with the Army Reserve), exemplify everything I know about what makes American warriors do what they do for all of us.

Say a prayer for Aaron’s and Kristi's safety and for the safety of “Higg”, Chad Higginbotham (Cobra Three of the C.O.B.R.A. Team), who is serving with the U.S. Army not far from Aaron.

* * * *

Aaron Self
Kabul, Afghanistan
November 27, 2008

"I woke up this morning thinking that I would feel even further from home than usual. In the past few days, I had casually asked some of the local Afghan staff if they knew anything about the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Each time, I would have to explain, as no one had heard of it. In a few instances, I did my best to explain that a turkey was a bird, and it had nothing to do with the country Turkey. The best I could do was 'Big Chicken' followed by a 'gobble' noise. I still don't know if they nodded in recognition, or just to placate the crazy American.

I received a phone call from an old war buddy, affectionately known as 'Higg'. Higg was on my four-man team in Iraq in 2004. It is a small world, as he is also deployed in the area. Higg called to invite me to his base for a Thanksgiving. He went on about ham and velvet cake and cobbler. I could smell the food as he talked about it, and I imagined my belt feeling tight after a traditional feast. Part of me knew to not get too excited, as plans change in the blink of an eye.

Countless times, I have had to cancel travel plans due to attacks and intelligence reports of threats specifically against western ex-patriots and soldiers. The plan was to head down to his location with my boss in tow. My boss was especially excited because this was the first opportunity for him to get his hair cut in two months. That kind of thing is hard on a military man, even after he hangs up the uniform.

To my surprise, our cook, Javid, had somehow secured 5 turkeys! He asked me how to make mashed potatoes, and I was amazed that I actually remembered how. Javid's gesture was incredible, but I still did not let myself get too excited. What passes as American food here is not even close to the real thing. I once had a 'hamburger' made of SPAM, cucumbers, Tabasco and potato bread. The attempt of a local cook to cook a bird he had only just heard of....well, my taste buds were in a holding pattern.

Soon, the familiar smell of Thanksgiving filled the air. I went to the kitchen to find Javid smiling ear to ear. His friend was pushing boiled potatoes through a meat grinder, because there was no other way to mash them. A pot of green beans was on the stove top, and one of the turkeys was being pulled from the oven. Javid asked me to try the mashed potatoes, and I was excited to find that they tasted almost as good as Mom's (sorry Mom, you have to factor in that there is a sentimental element that effects the taste buds).

I called Higg and confirmed that Doug and I were going to meet him at the base at 2:00 PM. I was reminded of every holiday since I was 18, eating with Mom, then after, repeating the ritual with Dad. I guess the tradition would be continued between two new families. As I was walking down the stairs, I heard the rumbling 'boom' of an explosion. I hear them frequently, so it was nothing out of the ordinary.

Within five minutes, Bahir, a trusted Afghan friend, told me that there had just been a suicide attack at the U.S. Embassy. I went to the roof (better cellular reception) and called an Australian friend who lives close to the Embassy. He answered, and immediately said, 'This thing is still going on, I need to call you back.'

Lunch was served, and I was surprised how eagerly the locals devoured the food. Doug said a few words about the history and meaning of the day, and I followed by sharing what I was thankful for. I spoke of new friends, and freedom, and family that was safe at home (all but one). A young man, Ali, then stood up, and shared what he was thankful for; friends and a chance to be included in our holiday. The spirit of Thanksgiving took root, and without coaching or provocation, the locals took turns standing and sharing what made them grateful. It was just like I had done every Thanksgiving, and I felt a little closer to home.

I called my Aussie friend to see if there were any developments regarding the attack. I needed to know the conditions if I was going to venture into that area. The news was grim. A coalition convoy was hit and there was intel suggesting more would occur. What’s more, four soldiers were killed. I informed Doug and called Higg to break the news that I was not coming. I don't think Mom would like me taking such a risk for a piece of velvet cake.

I was disappointed at the thought of missing out on my plans to catch up with an old friend. And then I thought of the four soldiers and four empty chairs in four different homes. I thought of the time difference in the States, and how four families would get the news right about the time the turkey hit the table.

This is not one of those sappy patriotic emails that your republican friend forwards to you. I just wanted to share my feelings with those that matter to me. I am thankful for so many things, and it took being so far away from friends and family to truly feel that way.

Mom and Ernie: I picture myself there in Dallas, coming over way too early and long talks in the kitchen, weighing my options on how much Mississippi mud to eat, versus how much room to leave in my stomach for Amy's green bean casserole.

I see Amy, Courtney and Mom, trying not to giggle as I ask the traditional Thanksgiving/Christmas question, 'Do you know the best thing about eating corn?' For those that are not familiar, the answer is not appropriate for the table.

I picture Dad and I sneaking out to go shooting, or begging Mary Jo to stop messing around in the kitchen and let us share her company.

I have counted my blessings today, and I came up with a few that I can only enjoy at home on Thanksgiving. I am thankful for triptafan-induced comas and Dr. Pepper burps. I am thankful for the only day I can stand to watch sports on TV. I am thankful for Kristi squeezing my hand the second everyone says 'Amen'. I am grateful for that third piece of cake that no one saw me eat, the sound of my giggling nieces and nephews as Elisabeth asks Uncle Aaron to come play, and the smell of turkey on my fingers.

I am also thankful for Matt, Julie, Myriam, Pancho and Lefty for making me and Kristi a part of their family. I am grateful for my friends at Evans (teachers and students, alike) for your letters and concern. I am grateful for the largest family ever, from Austin, Dallas, Stillwater, Houston, Apache and Washington. In my travels over the years, I have never felt forgotten or left out, and I have felt your prayers cover me like a warm blanket. I am grateful to be married to the most resilient and wonderful woman in the world. Kristi, this is not our first Thanksgiving spent in different countries. I know George Bush is not there this time to serve you turkey, so I hope you don't feel let down.

I just want to tell my wife, family and friends 'Happy Thanksgiving', and I am thinking of all of you."


* * * *

Aaron, we are grateful for you, for Kristi, for Higg and for all of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are risking your lives for all of us. It is only because of your efforts that we can sit at home today in freedom and safety.

Be safe and know we are all here for you.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to America's Warriors & Their Families

Please take time on Thanksgiving to pray for the safety of America's warriors who are fighting the good fight on our behalf. We must also remember their families, the loved ones who provide the daily inspiration to their relatives in uniform.

No Thanksgiving could ever be complete without expressing our gratitude to the multiple generations of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose sacrifices have made it possible for us to enjoy our holiday in freedom and safety.

Thanks also to all of you who have supported me and my fellow service members during our most difficult times. Your cards, letters, packages, prayers and good wishes mean more than you could ever know.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Charles M. Grist

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Marines Teach Afghan Insurgents a Painful Lesson

I shall always be grateful to the Marines for signing out an M79 grenade launcher to me in Iraq. All Americans should be proud of these great warriors.

The following article proves that some insurgents just have to learn the hard way that bad guys should never mess with the Marines:

* * * *

Marine Makes Insurgents Pay the Price

November 18, 2008
Marine Corps News by Cpl. James M. Mercure

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages.

Shewan had been a thorn in the side of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan throughout the Marines’ deployment here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, because it controls an important supply route into the Bala Baluk district. Opening the route was key to continuing combat operations in the area.

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.”

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

* * * *

Sounds like some officer better get off his ass and make some award recommendations....

Charles M. Grist

Monday, November 24, 2008

Operation Iraqi Freedom is a Success - Now Its Up to The Iraqis

The following assessment of the current situation in Iraq is one of the best I’ve seen:

* * * *

A Framework for Success in Iraq

By Michael Gerson
Roger Hertog Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Friday, November 21, 2008;
Op-ed, Washington Post, A23

A war that once seemed likely to end in a panic of helicopters fleeing the American Embassy now seems destined to conclude as the result of a parliamentary process. A landmark status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) -- requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June and from Iraq itself by the end of 2011 -- is headed for a final reading in the Iraqi parliament next week.

The approval of the SOFA would leave a chapter of history decorated with paradoxes. President Bush -- who once called withdrawal timelines "arbitrary" and "unacceptable" -- ends his term accepting them. President-elect Barack Obama will inherit a more peaceful Iraq because of policies he strongly opposed. And the Iraqi government -- so often criticized by Americans as weak and ineffectual -- is now asserting its sovereignty in a decisive manner, for good or ill.

The withdrawal deadlines contained in the SOFA seem like concessions from the Bush administration -- and they are. Officials are careful to point out that the June withdrawal from Iraqi cities merely codifies the current process of transferring provincial control to Iraqi forces -- and that both sides are free to renegotiate the agreement when it expires in three years. But the deadlines in the SOFA do limit the tactical flexibility of the next president in ways the current president would not have preferred.

Yet President Bush can take comfort from the fact that these deadlines are conceivable only because of the success of his surge strategy -- because al-Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated and the Sunni revolt has died down. Put another way: The more successful the surge has been, the less dangerous the deadlines for withdrawal have become. And this, after all, was the whole purpose of the surge -- it was intended to be a "bridge strategy" from the failures of 2005 and 2006 to a situation where an orderly withdrawal would be possible.

The SOFA also may seem to be a vindication of the Obama approach to Iraq, but it isn't. Candidate Obama proposed the withdrawal of all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008 -- a policy that would have left chaos and perhaps genocide in its wake. He stuck with a strategy of precipitate withdrawal even after the successes of the surge became evident. The new, more responsible timetables of the SOFA became possible not because of Obama's views but in spite of them.

Yet both leaders are likely to see benefit from the agreement. If a broadly based Iraqi government emerges as American troops withdraw, Bush's Iraq policy will demand and deserve a major historical reassessment. And the SOFA should allow President Obama to reinterpret his campaign pledges on Iraq in a more responsible manner – giving deference to the best military advice during the next three years and avoiding destabilizing actions.

The success of the surge has achieved some extraordinary things – not only the possibility of peace in Iraq but also a convergence in American politics. Bush's and Obama's modified positions on Iraq are quite close. Both leaders have accepted a responsible, gradual withdrawal and the possibility of leaving behind success instead of failure.

Much of that success, of course, will depend on the Iraqis themselves - particularly on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his leadership. If he acts the part of a benign nationalist, he could father a stable and unified nation. If he uses the military we have built, in the vacuum left by U.S. withdrawal, to attack his enemies and consolidate his personal power, he could provoke another civil war with the Sunnis.

Administration officials believe they have taken precautions that will encourage Iraqi nationalism over a destructive pan-Shiism. Iraqi security forces and police have been carefully integrated. Provincial elections in January will give greater influence to disenfranchised Sunnis (who foolishly boycotted the last elections). And national elections set for December of next year could act as a check on Maliki's ambitions and abuses.

Dealing with the new Iraq will not be easy. It has become a prickly nation, jealous of its sovereignty and determined to avoid even the appearance of American imperialism. But this also means it is becoming a "normal," self-governing country, in the midst of a national debate on its security just six years after the end of a vicious tyranny.

The cost of this success has been high for America, and some may argue that it has not been worth the price. But it is still a success.

* * * *

Our efforts to build this nation have been successful. The Iraqis want to be completely on their own and that is their right as a sovereign nation. However, they must continue the path of peace and cooperation between their various factions. To do otherwise will turn our joint victory into ashes.

Let us hope that their own history will record the sacrifices by the warriors of the United States and other Coalition countries that made their freedom a reality.

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Remembering John F. Kennedy

On November 22, 1963, I was in a ninth grade English class at Robert E. Lee Junior High School in Orlando, Florida. Suddenly, the principal came over the loudspeaker to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. The school broadcast live news reports over the intercom until the fateful words were announced that our president had died.

Students and teachers cried while some of us wondered if this had been a Soviet conspiracy and whether or not war was in the offing. We left our classrooms and gathered by the old Civil War cannon next to the school flagpole while the principal tried to calm a bunch of distraught kids. I can’t remember what he said, only that he was re-assuring to a generation of children who had become enchanted by JFK and his family.

We all became part of the Camelot legacy. Kennedy asked us to serve our country, he led our nation with courage and he taught us to think about more in life than just pleasing ourselves. He also inspired us to reach for the stars.

None of us was ever the same, but I always remembered this young hero of World War II and his vision of freedom. When I joined the Army five years later, I still recalled his words:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Rest in peace, young prince…

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Iraqi Civilians Want the New Agreement

The following article was posted on While the Iraqis will certainly be glad to run their own country, it is still annoying that the Shiites have not thanked us in a large-scale official way for pulling them out from under Saddam’s Sunni thumb.

The new agreement, which will end our involvement in Iraq by the end of 2011, still has to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament, but it will likely go through since it has the blessing of Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the most powerful Shiite religious leader in Iraq.

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Iraqis Demonstrate in Favor of US Pact

November 19, 2008
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

BAGHDAD - More than 5,000 Iraqis demonstrated in the Iraqi city of Hillah on Nov. 18 to support the security agreement between the United States and Iraq that would require U.S. troops to withdraw from the country.

The deal sets the legal basis for the future presence of US troops in Iraq after a United Nations Security Council mandate expires at the end of the year.

Under the agreement, the deadline for the complete withdrawal of US troops is Dec. 31, 2011. More than 140,000 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker signed the deal in Baghdad on Monday. However, it still needs parliamentary approval before it can be signed by the US and Iraqi presidents.

The demonstration in support of the security pact broke out in the centre of Hillah, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad. Clan chiefs and students were among the demonstrators, witnesses told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The demonstrators carried flags and signs that said "Together for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq" and "With heart, with blood, we save you, Iraq." They also chanted slogans that urged the Iraqi government to sign the security agreement with the U.S.

Hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers surrounded the demonstrators who walked to the city council.

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The war in Iraq may end for us by 2011, but watch the Shiite militias and the Iranians closely. The breeze of "fundamentalism" is blowing gently across the desert...

Charles M. Grist

Friday, November 14, 2008

The WW II Heroine Who Lost the Nobel Prize for Peace to Al Gore

I received this today from a military historian:

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Reflections - In Memoriam to a World War II Heroine - Irena Sendlerowa (1910-2008)

There recently was a death of a 98-year-old lady named Irena.

During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. She knew what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews.

Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck for larger kids. She had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time, and in the course of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids and infants.

She was caught and the Nazis broke her legs and arms and beat her severely. Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.

After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and reunite the families. Most, of course, had been gassed. The kids she helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted.

When Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize . . . She lost. Al Gore won instead, for a film on Global Warming (while owning a huge carbon footprint mansion).

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Here is a link for more information on Irena Sendlerowa:

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Al Gore must have known about his fellow nominee for the Nobel Prize for Peace. It says a lot about his character that he would not willingly and eagerly step aside for such a heroine.

Charles M. Grist

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Medal of Honor Recipient Finally Buried in Arlington

Here is an inspiring story about one of America's heroes:

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Washington Post
November 13, 2008
Pg. B1

A Hero's Long Journey To Arlington

For Family, Burial Ends an 'Injustice'

By Mark Berman, Washington Post Staff Writer

Army Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton was two months shy of his 22nd birthday when his platoon tried to take a hill near Chipo-Ri, South Korea. The platoon leader was wounded, so Charlton took command.

He rallied his men, who had suffered heavy casualties, and led the next assault, only to be pushed back again. Despite a severe chest wound, he refused medical attention and led another charge. He alone eliminated the remaining enemy emplacement, though he had been hit again by a grenade. His wounds led to his death June 2, 1951.

The next year, Charlton was awarded the Medal of Honor, reserved for the "bravest of the brave," and he was supposed to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. But it didn't happen.

Until yesterday.

No one knows exactly why it took 57 years for Charlton to receive his hero's burial in the nation's cemetery. But yesterday, all that mattered was that more than 150 friends, relatives and others gathered for the long-awaited ceremony.

Charlton is the only black Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War buried at Arlington; there are 15 other black Medal of Honor recipients buried there. Medal of Honor winners automatically qualify for burial at Arlington.

"This was a historical moment, not only for the family but also for myself," said Bob Gumbs, a veteran and one of the many people who worked to get Charlton buried at Arlington. "It's really a culmination of a series of events. . . . It's the culmination of a long effort."

Charlton's niece, Zenobia Penn, said she grew up hearing stories about her uncle "Connie," the good guy, the nice guy. But the conversation would inevitably shift to "the injustice of him not being buried in Arlington Cemetery," said Penn, 57, of New London, Conn.

According to family history, relatives had received Charlton's medal and were in a caravan, on their way to Arlington Cemetery, with a horse-drawn buggy carrying the flag-covered coffin, Penn said.

"As they were approaching Arlington Cemetery, they were stopped by some folks in pickup trucks with shotguns, pointing at them and telling them he wasn't going to be buried there," Penn said. "They were just racists. They weren't military. They weren't Arlington representatives. They were just racists. They didn't want to celebrate -- it wasn't time yet for the South to celebrate a black military hero."

Penn's grandparents buried Charlton in Pocahontas, Va., just across the border from West Virginia. In 1989, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the American Legion made arrangements for him to be buried at the American Legion cemetery in Beckley, W.Va., where he remained until this week.

Charlton was honored in other ways. The Navy christened the USNS Charlton in 1999. There is a Charlton Memorial Bridge in West Virginia and a Charlton Gardens in New York.

Charlton Gardens is in the Bronx, where Charlton lived before enlisting. New York City named the property in his honor the year after he died. The city Department of Parks and Recreation Web site says Charlton "was barred from burial in Arlington National Cemetery because he was African-American."

Arlington Superintendent John Metzler said credentials, not skin color, are what matter at Arlington. He said no soldier has been barred because of race. "We have always buried soldiers and race was never a question," Metzler said.

Arlington historian Tom Sherlock said African Americans were buried at the cemetery within days of its opening May 13, 1864. Members of what were then called the "United States Colored Troops" were buried in Section 27, right over the hill from Section 40, where Charlton was buried yesterday.

The separate-sections policy ended after President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces with Executive Order 9981 on July 25, 1948.

Sherlock said he doesn't doubt that the family might have encountered hostility on the way to the cemetery in the 1950s. But yesterday's burial was a "victory over whatever nonsense they heard," he said. "This brave soldier is here in Arlington, where he belonged all along, and we're honored to have his remains here."

Cemetery officials said they had not heard of any similar incidents.

The family's decision to resume the push for an Arlington burial stemmed from a racist incident Penn's 6-year-old granddaughter suffered at school this year.

"I made a conscious decision to research Uncle Connie, to do the best I could and compile everything the best I could," Penn said, "so she was aware of her history, of black history -- to be proud of being a black female, despite the shade of her skin."

Penn learned for the first time about the Bronx park named after her uncle. She discovered that a group of primarily black veterans had formed the Friends of Charlton Gardens and had raised $1.5 million to renovate the park and rededicated it in 2005. Unbeknown to her, they had been looking for Charlton's family for years. She reached out to them and met them on Memorial Day.

Penn contacted her congressman, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), for help.

It wound up being remarkably simple. Ed Burke, Courtney's military and veterans affairs field representative, said that he helped the family obtain certification that Charlton had been awarded the Medal of Honor and that Arlington accepted it. In September, the family was given the date when Charlton would be buried for the third and final time.

"It was bigger than anything I ever expected," Penn said. "We only just wanted to right the wrong. We had no idea this was going to keep going into something as monumental as this."

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In combat, all men are brothers. I have seen white men cry over their dead black comrades and black soldiers weep for their lost white buddies.

This honor was long overdue and all soldiers should be grateful it finally happened.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

American Soldiers Begin Leaving Iraqi Cities

The first phase of our eventual withdrawal is underway:

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US Troops Leaving Iraqi Cities

November 12, 2008
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military in Iraq is abandoning - deliberately and with little public notice - a centerpiece of the widely acclaimed strategy it adopted nearly two years ago to turn the tide against the insurgency. It is moving American troops farther from the people they are trying to protect.

Starting in early 2007, with Iraq on the brink of all-out civil war, the troops were pushed into the cities and villages as part of a change in strategy that included President Bush's decision to send more combat forces.

The bigger U.S. presence on the streets was credited by many with allowing the Americans and their Iraqi security partners to build trust among the populace, thus undermining the extremists' tactics of intimidation, reducing levels of violence and giving new hope to resolving the country's underlying political conflicts.

Now the Americans are reversing direction, consolidating in larger bases outside the cities and leaving security in the hands of the Iraqis while remaining within reach to respond as the Iraqi forces require.

The U.S. is on track to complete its shift out of all Iraqi cities by June 2009. That is one of the milestones in a political-military campaign plan devised in 2007 by Gen. David Petraeus, when he was the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and his political partner in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The goal also is in a preliminary security pact with the Iraqi government on the future U.S. military presence.

The shift is not explicitly linked to U.S. plans for increasing its military presence in Afghanistan, but there is an important connection: The logistical resources needed to house and supply a larger and more distributed U.S. force in Afghanistan have been tied up in Iraq. To some extent that will be relieved with the consolidation of U.S. forces in Iraq onto larger, outlying bases that are easier to maintain.

These moves coincide with priorities expressed by President-elect Obama during his campaign: reducing the U.S. military commitment in Iraq and putting more resources into Afghanistan. It also fits with Petraeus' view that a more robust counterinsurgency approach is needed in Afghanistan, meaning not only a larger number of troops but also getting them spread out into more villages.

But it also points up a major gamble in Iraq - namely, that the Iraqis are ready to handle the insurgency themselves.

Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and an occasional adviser to Petraeus, is among those who worry about the consequences of excluding U.S. forces from the cities.

"It gets us out of the way" should Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki decide to use Iraqi security forces to crush the U.S.-allied Sunni neighborhood militia groups who have been instrumental in attacking extremist elements of the insurgency, Biddle said in an e-mail exchange. Al-Maliki sees those militiamen, whom the U.S. has dubbed "Sons of Iraq," as an internal threat to Shiite political predominance.

Biddle said that on balance he believes the risks are more likely to outweigh the benefits of sticking to the June goal.

Retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who served as Petraeus' right-hand man in Baghdad during the U.S. troop buildup and has written a book, "Baghdad at Sunrise," about the counterinsurgency effort, also has misgivings. He said in an e-mail exchange Tuesday that his main concern is sectarian violence.

"Without U.S. forces in the cities, the Shiite and Sunni militias could once again take to fighting each other without an honest broker to keep the peace," he said. "The Iraqi army is not ready to play this role, in my view - not yet, anyway."

Ready or not, U.S. commanders are marching steadily in that direction - and not just in Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Martin Post, deputy commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq, where the Sunni insurgency has sharply abated - if not almost disappeared - since 2007, said Monday his outfit is shutting down the U.S. base at Fallujah. The U.S. headquarters elements there are moving to al-Asad air base, a large but remote facility in the vast desert halfway between Fallujah and the Syrian border.

"There's been a big effort to move all the Marine forces out of the cities," Post said in a videoconference with reporters at the Pentagon. "And so as you go throughout, from Fallujah all the way up the Euphrates River Valley, up to al-Qaim - where we used to have Marines actually living in the cities - we've pulled them all out."

© Copyright 2008 Associated Press.

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Now we shall see where this will go for the next few months. Watch the foreign fighters and how much bolder they become. The Shiite militias will probably stay underground for now, waiting for us to leave.

Charles M. Grist

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 11, 2008: Veteran's Day

Here is the Veteran's Day message from Lieutenant General Jack Stultz, commanding general of the Army Reserve:

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"Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all men and women who served honorably in the military - in wartime or in peacetime. Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge their contributions to our national security, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty.

While we recognize and value each Soldier's contributions, our heroes motivate and inspire us. Four Army Reserve Soldiers have been awarded the Silver Star medal for exceptional heroic actions while supporting the war on terror:

PFC Jeremy Church was credited with saving the lives of at least five Soldiers and four civilians when his convoy came under attack from opposition militia. Under heavy artillery fire, Church maneuvered his vehicle to a security perimeter and led his troops to rescue wounded Soldiers. Church was the first Army Reserve Soldier to be awarded the Silver Star in the Iraq war and the first Army Reserve Soldier to earn this distinction since the Vietnam War.

SGT James Witkowski made the ultimate sacrifice when he smothered a grenade that was lobbed into his gun turret when his convoy was attacked by the enemy in Iraq. Using his body to stop the grenade from entering the vehicle and to suppress the blast, Witkowski saved three Soldiers in the truck. Witkowski was the only Soldier killed during the attack, but he saved the lives of his fellow soldiers.

During the opening of a medical facility built by his provincial reconstruction team, SSG Jason Fetty identified a suicide bomber and placed himself in direct contact with the attacker. Fetty maneuvered the man away from the crowd to a clearing near the hospital, where the terrorist ultimately detonated his bomb. Fetty was wounded by shrapnel, but Provincial Government officials, hospital staff, citizens, and Fetty's team members were safe.

SPC Gregory Ruske was awarded the Silver Star for his actions when a much larger enemy force attacked his 11-man platoon in the mountains of Afghanistan. During the initial contact, both Ruske and two Afghan National Police officers were wounded, and one wounded officer remained under fire in the open. Under cover from his platoon, Ruske and another Soldier ignored withering enemy fire and sprinted 30 meters to drag the wounded officer to safety.

Today's Warrior-Citizens, like these Silver Star recipients and all who served before them, are great American heroes who put their lives on hold - and on the line - to defend our country and our freedoms. Army Reserve Soldiers and their Families sacrifice every day to make a difference in people's lives.

On Veterans Day 2008, I join with all Americans to honor their commitment, selfless service and personal courage."

LTG Jack Stultz

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Please take time on Tuesday, November 11, to remember all the men and women who have served our nation in uniform.

Charles M. Grist

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Withdrawal From Iraq Is Not Very Far Away

The following article discusses the problems in negotiations between Iraq and the United States on our continued presence there:

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'Deal, No Deal' on Iraq-US Troop Talks

November 07, 2008

Knight Ridder

BAGHDAD - The United States delivered Thursday what it said was the final text of the controversial accord on the stationing of U.S. forces in Iraq, but Iraq said more talks are needed before the government can accept it.

"We have gotten back to the Iraqi government with a final text. Through this step, we have concluded the process on the U.S. side," said Susan Ziadeh, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad. "Iraq will now need to take it forward through their own process."

The accord, which calls for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011, has been the subject of tense negotiations for the past seven months.

According to State Department officials, the United States yielded to several important Iraqi demands, including Baghdad's proposal to inspect mail and cargo for U.S. forces in Iraq. One official said he did not know the details of how those inspections would be carried out, adding, "I don't think it's going to be overly intrusive."

He and other officials spoke on condition of anonymity, because the details of the American response were not being made public.

President Bush also accepted Iraq's request for firmer language in its call for U.S. troops to withdraw by the end of 2011, two defense officials said, although they did not know the details of the wording.

While the U.S. government signaled that it will not engage in further negotiations over the pact, which has been repeatedly delayed, the government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, indicated that Iraq expects further discussions with the United States before the process is completed.

"These amendments need meetings with the American side to reach the bilateral understanding, and the environment is positive," Dabbagh said in a statement on a government-funded television channel. "The Iraqi side needs time to give the main blocs to have their opinions, suggestions and notes on the amendments suggested by the American side."

Many Iraqi officials are now calling the status-of-forces accord, or SOFA, "the withdrawal agreement," possibly as a way of marketing it to a wary public.

The accord is controversial in Washington as well. The White House has pushed aggressively to reach the deal, but some Pentagon officials expressed concern that the concessions will set a precedent for current and future status-of-forces agreements with other countries. The United States is not believed to have agreed to another nation monitoring mail in status agreements with more than 80 other countries, for example.

Earlier this week, a senior Pentagon official who requested anonymity to speak candidly said he found it "hard to believe we could find aspects there that are acceptable" in the Iraqi proposal to search mail and cargo, adding: "What kind of precedents would we be setting?"

Administration officials said Bush sees the agreement as key to shaping his legacy on Iraq. They said Bush wanted to leave the presidency with a solidified relationship between the United States and an indisputably sovereign Iraq.

To the White House, "SOFA is a sign of success," a second U.S. defense official, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly, told McClatchy Newspapers.

That said, the Bush administration refused to accept one major Iraqi proposal, which would have given Iraq expanded legal jurisdiction over U.S. Soldiers alleged to commit wrongdoing while in the country. U.S. officials have called that a "non-starter."

The agreement has to be completed by the end of this year in order to replace a U.N. mandate that provides the legal basis for the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Iraqi officials were tight-lipped Thursday about whether the changes were acceptable. The changes first must be presented to the Cabinet. If the Cabinet agrees, the draft will be presented to the Iraqi parliament. One of the main sticking points for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has been the issue of jurisdiction over U.S. Soldiers in Iraq.

Shiite Muslim officials who raised new demands when the accord was completed two weeks ago have been accused of succumbing to Iranian influence not to sign the agreement. At the time, Iraqi officials openly predicted that the government would be forced to extend the United Nations mandate. In recent days, officials have sounded more positive about the outcome.

"The next step is for the Cabinet to meet to look at the responses," Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told McClatchy. "I hope it will be very soon."

The latest draft calls for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and withdraw from Iraq by 2011. It also lifts immunity for private U.S. contractors such as Blackwater, whose security guards were accused of uncontrolled shooting while on patrol duty, resulting in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

It also allows for a joint U.S. and Iraqi committee to decide whether a U.S. Soldier who's committed a crime outside a U.S. base was off-duty and where he should be tried. Iraqi officials wanted to make that decision on their own, but the Bush administration has apparently rejected the demand.

President-elect Barack Obama has long advocated a U.S. withdrawal by the summer of 2010, a date that Maliki originally demanded in the agreement.

U.S. officials are pushing to get the deal done before the end of the month. If it's not done by the beginning of December, the government will have to begin the process to renew the U.N. mandate, one U.S. official in Iraq said. The parliament must approve the agreement when it's back in session next week and before it adjourns just before the end of the month for the Hajj season, when millions of Muslims make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"Look, the government of Iraq has debated this agreement thoroughly. ... They forwarded to us their suggested amendments. We got back to them," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday. "Now the negotiating process has come to an end."

© Copyright 2008 Knight Ridder.

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As I have emphasized before, Iraq will never permit a long-term presence of foreign troops on their soil. They will also never permit the continued occupation of bases for America's stategic purposes. There will be no Germany or Japan-styled multi-decade presence.

Those of us who served in Iraq and who came to know the Iraqi people understood this reality from the beginning. The Crusades and the British colonial occupation of the early twentieth century are still bad memories for almost all Arabs.

The Bush administration has already accepted provisions in the status-of-forces agreement that will move our forces from the cities of Iraq to military bases in mid-2009. We have also agreed to have all troops out by the end of 2011. Mr. Obama will make it happen even sooner.

Watch Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army. This extremist Shiite militia is supported by Iran and its members are voicing opposition to anything that will keep Coalition forces in Iraq. Their ultimate objective is a fundamentalist theocracy like the one in Iran. Let's see what they do after the only things standing in their way are new Iraqi soldiers and police officers.

America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can be proud of what they have accomplished in Iraq. In the end, the people of this troubled nation will decide for themselves how they will live in the future.

Charles M. Grist