Heavy Medals

Three congressmen, two Democrats and a Republican, have introduced legislation that will recognize the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Good for them.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., Rob Simmons, R-Conn., and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, today introduced legislation to award veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan specific campaign medals for those wars.
“As a Vietnam veteran and former Marine, I know the incredible pride and sense of accomplishment our military personnel feel about how well they have done in our most recent wars,” said Snyder in a statement. “Whatever one thinks about the Iraq war, our people in uniform did what their country asked of them and they did it very well. Congress should recognize their accomplishments, and I am very pleased that Mr. Simmons and Mr. Reyes have joined me in introducing this legislation recognizing the accomplishments of our men and women in uniform.”
“The embattled soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company fought in Iraq to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and search out his weapons of mass destruction,” said Reyes. “Their ambush and imprisonment — and the experiences of all those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — should be adequately recognized. In past wars, millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have received combat medals that have held intense meaning for them. Soldiers who fought and are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve a medal of equal significance.”
Good for these congressmen. There legislation is in response to the Pentagon’s decision to award a single Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) medal to military veterans. Now let’s do something about military pay…

Update to Flag Flap

Update on the Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

A knowledgeable friend who was in Kirkuk a few weeks ago wrote in to tell me that the Kurds — and other political parties such as the Turkoman Front — had been flying their flags since at least the beginning of August. Three days ago, when the Coalition Provisional Authority instructed the flags be taken down, Kurds pelted U.S. soldiers with stones. The CPA soon reversed itself, the reason for the previous entry.
As my friend wrote: “When I was there [in early August], the city was FILLED with Kurdish flags. It is truly unbelievable, and quite beautiful. Every single building had a Kurdistan flag flying. Many walls had Kurdish flags painted on them. Even the lightposts had Kurdish flags painted on them.”
The flagrant flag flying was news to me. I had heard from friends in the area that the Iraqi flag (minus Saddam’s post-1991 Arabic additions) had been flying since the early summer or so. In fact, when I was there in April on the day of Kirkuk’s liberation, there were many old-style Iraqi flags being waved about — in addition to the political parties’ flags. When did the Kurds and others begin putting up their own flags? I don’t know.
Anyway, the decision to let the Kurds wave their banner high in Kirkuk seems to be a reverting to the status quo, although one that I still think is decidedly shaky. Regardless of the validity of the Kurds’ claims on Kirkuk (and I think they’re pretty damn valid), flaunting the Kurdish nature of the city in the face of Turkey and its Turkoman brethren is asking for trouble.
Anyway, this flag lag reveals a source of major frustration for me. My sources communicate too slowly to allow for timeliness. Trying to parse Kurdish and Arabic English-language media over the net is a bit of a fool’s game. In short, there’s no good way to cover Iraq from New York, and I have no way to get to Iraq any time soon.

Kurds, CPA asking for trouble in Kirkuk

The CPA allows the Kurds to fly their flag over Kirkuk. Are they nuts?

Hoo boy. The Kurds in Kirkuk, a flash-point for Turks, Turkoman, Arabs and Kurds alike, have received permission from the CPA to fly the Kurdish flag in the city.

The coalition forces announced that Kurds are free to fly the Kurdistan flag in Kirkuk, wherever they want and no one has the right to remove the Kurdistan flag or object this Kurdish right.
The Kurds have told the coalition forces that the Iraqi flag does not represent Kurds and Kurdistan and it has caused many atrocities to Kurds.

Is the CPA nuts? When the Kurds liberated Kirkuk, the Kurdish police who immediately set up shop in the city wore the old Iraqi police uniforms so they wouldn’t give Turkey the wrong idea that the Kurds were about to bolt from Iraq and form an independent country. This was a wise move.
But this flag flying could be trouble. It’s an expression of Kurdish nationalism and seems to indicate a frustration with the slow pace of the federalization plan the Kurds came up with last year.
A friend of mine thinks the Kurds should have their own country, the Arabs should get the rest of Iraq and, for good measure, Turkey should be dismantled (!) and the southeast ceded to the newly independent Kurdistan. While I think the Kurds certainly _deserve_ their own state — God knows they’ve suffered through the decades — it’s unclear whether they can they have it? I’d guess probably not. A Kurdish state would be too destabilizing to the region. Turkey is absolutely opposed to an independent Kurdistan, and worries that if Kurds controlled the oil revenue of the Kirkuk fields, they would have the means to make an independent state viable. Thus, a declaration of independence — possibly brought on by nationalism stoked by such symbolism as the flying the Kurdish flag over Kirkuk — could result in a massive and immediate invasion from both Turkey and Iran in order to keep order, and to secure the Kirkuk and Mosul oil fields.
How many Kurds would die for such a future? How many Turks? No doubt, many on both sides are willing to die for either Kurdistan or Turkey, but the Kurds should ask themselves whether an independent state would be worth death and destruction.
THe flag over Kirkuk could enrage the Turkoman, who claim Kirkuk as their city in the same way that Kurds say it is theirs. The will likely say they need protection, prompting Turkey to growl about the need for intervention. (The Turks are using the presence of the Turkoman in Kirkuk as an excuse to maintain their leverage with the Americans on the Kurdish issue.) Support the Kurds too much in their independence dream, the Turks are saying, and we’ll use the plight of the Turkoman as a pretext to invade. Does the United States want to be caught in between the Turks and the Kurds? A NATO ally and a coalition member? When America is trying to convince Turkey to supply up to 10,000 troops to help pacify Baghdad? Is this some kind of brinkmanship the U.S. is playing with Turkey? Could the U.S. be using the Kurds to provoke the Turks, only to promise to reign them in if the Turks finally offer troops, betting Ankara won’t _really_ invade? If so, it’s a dangerous bluff.
The status of Kirkuk is, to put it mildly, delicate. Letting the Kurds fly their flag, while seemingly a small gesture, could have large consequences.

Army admits to using Journos in Iraq

Following on the curious story of Paul Moran, the U.S. Army is admitting it used the media for its own ends. In one incident, a tank commander rounded up journalists for what the article calls a “thunder run” through Baghdad to show Iraqi troops, whose resistance had stiffened thanks to Iraqi media manipulation, that the U.S. was in charge.

“I just wanted them to report what happened. If having the media report accurately is using them, then they were used,” said Col. David Perkins, who as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade had organized the tank foray into Baghdad specifically to garner publicity for the U.S. advance.

Also interesting is the grousing by Marine Col. Glenn Starnes, who derides the current bad news out of Iraq as sensational and says its “because we’ve lost the embeds.” The problem, according to Col. Starnes, is that the military lost control of the story, not the situation.
Now, I can’t say for sure what is going on. I’m not there. _And that’s the problem._ If the military is admitting to ginning up propaganda stunts that get transmitted both back home and to the enemy, then how can the civilians on the home front trust what’s being reported? Is the situation in Iraq really as bad as it’s being reported? Or is it sensationalized as Col. Starnes charges? Granted, reporters do flock, vulture-like, to bad news, but I don’t think any thinking person would deny the military — and its commander in chief — has a vested interest in shaping the story, calming the home front down, bolstering a flagging support. And now they’ve admitted they’ve staged events to give certain impressions. (But we already knew that, thanks to the whole Jessica Lynch embarrassment.)
Maybe things in Baghdad really are OK, as SecDef Donald Rumsfeld said the other day, but how can we know for sure? It’s pretty obvious the military can’t be relied on to tell the straight truth — not that I totally blame them; for all my criticisms, I understand the need for media manipulation in today’s globalized and networked world. However, I don’t have to like it, approve of it, or participate. Hence, my solo trek to the war.
Backing up the independent spirit, Orville Schell wrote in an essay in Sunday’s _New York Times Magazine_ that foreign correspondents must becomes a “stateless people” in order to remain independent. By far the most telling example of this are the sentiments expressed by Mazen Dana, the Palestinian cameraman who was killed by U.S. soldiers last month when they fired on him with tank shells. (The official reason was that the tank commander thought his camera was an RPG.)

Dana represented those reporters whose allegiances are not primarily to nation, patriotism or ideology but to this new independent tribe of cryptic witness-bearing, the antithesis of embedded, producer reliant, flag-waving Geraldos. ”Freedom means to me to work free, no one bother you,” he told his C.P.J. interviewer in his game English. ”We film, and we show the world what’s going on. … My motive is to continue my work, even if it costed for me a lot of problems and a lot of injury … even if it cost me my life.”

It did, tragically, just as it cost 16 other journalists their lives. But that may be the nature of what’s required in future wars, in which the landscape has changed and national allegiances are liabilities — both for life and limb, and for the sake of truth.

What is evolving is a form of conflict not characterized by armies of ”good guys” and ”bad guys” or ”liberators” and ”oppressors,” one covered by journalists who come from or identify with one side or another. We have instead a new, almost gravityless, world of conflict in which the American military can kill journalists without causing great alarm and ”the enemy” can blow up U.N. aid missions and other ”soft” civilian targets without remorse. All that journalists have to steady them in this bad dream is grit and a stubborn refusal to serve any of the contending masters. What gives their work meaning is a defiant commitment to independence, accurate reporting and an almost existential belief that no matter how debased the world and politics become, the ”real story” somehow still matters.