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Friday, January 05, 2007

U.S. and Japan Warn North Korea Against 2nd Test - New York Times

U.S. and Japan Warn North Korea Against 2nd Test - New York Times
January 5, 2007

U.S. and Japan Warn North Korea Against 2nd Test

The United States and Japan warned North Korea today against conducting a second nuclear test, as South Korean officials reported suspicious activities at the North’s test site but no evidence of preparations for a nuclear blast.

“There have been unidentified activities detected at the North’s suspected nuclear test site, but as of now, we have no specific indications directly linked to an additional test,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official in Seoul, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

A South Korean news agency quoted an unnamed government official who said that movement by vehicles and people had been spotted at Punggye, the remote test site in northeastern North Korea where the Communist regime conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 9.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that a second test would damage the prospects for the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program that were revived by China last month.

“If you did have another test of a nuclear device, that would have severe consequences for the viability of that political-diplomatic process,” Mr. McCormack told reporters, according to Reuters. “Why would they take such a step at this time?”

The recent round of talks ended without resolution, as the United States refused North Korea’s demand that it discuss ending a crackdown on the Pyongyang regime’s international banking activities a part of the nuclear negotiations.

Mr. McCormack said that he expected the talks, which include Russia, Japan, China, the United States and North and South Korea, to resume this month.

In Tokyo, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry played down the reports of test preparations, but said that the Japanese government would press for tougher sanctions against North Korea if another test occurred, news services reported.

“We think it is essential that North Korea should stop further nuclear testing and they should abandon all their nuclear programs,” said the spokesman, Nori Shikata. “If they conduct another nuclear test, then the international community, including Japan, will take additional measures.”

Japan and the United States took the toughest diplomatic line after the October test when the United Nations Security Council discussed and ultimately imposed sanctions on North Korea.

China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, reacted angrily to news of the test. Until then, it had resisted any call to impose sanctions against the Pyongyang regime. China eventually voted to adopt punitive measures proposed by the United States and Japan, although it insisted on changes that made some of the toughest provisions optional, like a call for inspection of ships at sea on their way to or from North Korea.

Since then, China has worked to get Pyongyang and Washington back to the bargaining table, where it hopes for a diplomatic solution.

The force of the Oct. 9 blast was far less than that usually produced by an atomic bomb, leading some officials and nuclear experts to speculate that North Korea may want to conduct a second test to improve its technology.

China’s position could make a new round of nuclear testing risky for North Korea, experts said, leading some to conclude that the latest rumblings about test preparations could be more threat than real.

“If it conducts a second test, North Korea will have more to lose than to gain,” said Baek Seung Joo, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The North is using its activities at the test site as a negotiating card. It’s a message to the United States that it can worsen the situation if Washington doesn’t make concessions and the six-party talks break down.”

John O’Neil reported from New York and Choe Sang-Hun from Seoul, South Korea.

Top Democrats Oppose More Troops in Iraq - New York Times

Top Democrats Oppose More Troops in Iraq - New York Times

January 5, 2007

Top Democrats Oppose More Troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 -- As President Bush prepares to present his new strategy on Iraq to the American people, Democratic Congressional leaders said today they will fight any approach that calls for deploying more United States troops there.

“We want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future but, like many of our senior military leaders, we do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, wrote to Mr. Bush.

“Adding more combat troops will only endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain,” the Democrats’ letter said.

Also reiterating his deep opposition to any troop increases was Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. “The administration refuses to acknowledge the devastating impact that keeping our brave troops in Iraq is having on our national security, and now the president is considering sending even more troops,” Mr. Feingold said in a statement.

“We should be bringing our troops out of Iraq, not the other way around,” he said. “The American people’s message at the ballot box was loud and clear, and it is past time that the administration listened.”

The Pelosi-Reid letter, and Mr. Feingold’s allusion to the November elections, underscored the new political reality for the White House. As President Bush prepares to take his case to the American people, and assembles a new military and diplomatic team to go with his redefined Iraq strategy, he is encountering fierce opposition from the newly empowered Democratic leadership.

In fact, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid are digging in more firmly than some of their Democratic colleagues who have not ruled out at least a modest, temporary troop increase. President Bush must be heartened, for example, by the stance of Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is the new head of the Armed Services Committee, who has said he would not “prejudge” the president’s proposal, provided that any troop increase is linked to a broader approach to disentangle the United States from Iraq.

Mr. Levin announced today that the Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on Iraq next Friday, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testifying.

Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi made it clear they have already made up their minds on troop increases. Their letter was sent as President Bush was signaling the direction he may take by installing new people in key diplomatic and military posts.

In promoting Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus to become the top commander in Iraq, succeeding Gen. George W. Casey Jr., President Bush is turning to a general who has been advocating more United States troops in Iraq.

And in choosing Zalmay Khalilzad, the ambassador to Iraq, to be the new American ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Bush achieves two goals: he removes Mr. Khalilzad from Baghdad, where he has been perceived by some Shiites as not being sympathetic to him because he is a Sunni, and he gives the United States a strong voice at the United Nations in place of John R. Bolton, who served under a cloud because he was unable to win Senate confirmation.

Moreover, in selecting Ryan C. Crocker, the current ambassador to Pakistan, to replace Mr. Khalilzad in Baghdad, the president is calling on one of the State Department’s most respected voices in the Middle East, a diplomat with decades of experience who has been ambassador to Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.

Finally, in an apparent attempt to lure Democrats to his side in advance of his address to the nation next week, Mr. Bush was conferring today with a dozen or more senators, critics as well as supporters. Among those reportedly being wooed by the president were two Democrats considered moderate to conservative, Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

The president’s overtures also underlined a political reality for the Democrats: while they have a relatively comfortable 233-to-202 margin in the House, their edge in the Senate could not be narrower: 51 to 49, counting the two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Mr. Lieberman, who lost the Democratic primary at least in part because of his support for Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, warned today against any stampede to get out of Iraq.

“Americans are frustrated, Americans are angry, and that anger and frustration is justified,” said Mr. McCain, who has advocated an increase in troops. “But when you ask most Americans should we get out right away, most of them say no.”

Mr. Lieberman said he hopes the president’s proposals do not set off “partisan political combat or some kind of inside-the-Beltway compromise.”

“We’re talking about war here,” Mr. Lieberman said. “We’re talking about security. We’re talking about terrorism. And we’ve got to try to do what’s right for victory in Iraq.”

Subway hero enjoys his 15 minutes of fame -

Subway hero enjoys his 15 minutes of fame -

Subway hero enjoys his 15 minutes of fame

Story Highlights

•Teen identified as New York Film Academy student
•Rescuer, teen lay in trough as train rode over them
•Two inches separated the men from train
•Rescuer refused medical attention; young man in stable condition

NEW YORK (AP) -- It took only an instant for Wesley Autrey to decide to jump into a subway track to rescue a stranger from an oncoming train.

In hindsight, even he is somewhat startled by his dramatic decision, Autrey said Wednesday.

But knowing he narrowly escaped injury or possibly death, the 50-year-old Harlem construction worker doesn't regret his choice.

"I did something to save someone's life," he said. (Watch Autrey demonstrate the rescueVideo)

The father of three has found himself the object of public attention since Tuesday, when he saved a young man who had fallen onto the subway tracks by pushing him into a gap between the rails.

Autrey planned to make the rounds of the morning television shows on Thursday, tape an appearance on David Letterman's CBS "Late Show" and visit City Hall to be honored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, Autrey said the impact of the risky rescue was sinking in.

"It's all hitting me now," Autrey said. "I'm looking, and these trains are coming in now. ... Wow, you did something pretty stupid."

While waiting for a downtown Manhattan train, Autrey saw Cameron Hollopeter, a 19-year-old film student, suffering from some kind of medical episode. After stumbling down the platform, Hollopeter, of Littleton, Mass., fell onto the tracks with a train on its way into the station.

Autrey, traveling with his two young daughters, knew he had to do something.

"If I let him stay there by himself, he's going to be dismembered," the Navy veteran remembered thinking.

He jumped down to the tracks, a few feet below platform level, and rolled with the young man into a drainage trough -- cold, wet and more than a little unpleasant smelling -- between the rails as the southbound No. 1 train came into the 137th Street/City College station.

The train's operator saw someone on the tracks and put the emergency brakes on. Some train cars passed over Autrey and Hollopeter with only a couple of inches to spare, but neither man suffered any harm from the incident.

Hollopeter was taken to a nearby hospital; Autrey refused medical attention -- and then went to work.

Autrey went by the hospital Wednesday afternoon for a visit with Hollopeter and his family. Afterward, he and Hollopeter's father addressed reporters.

"Mr. Autrey's instinctive and unselfish act saved our son's life," said Larry Hollopeter, his voice choking up.

Following the incident, calls came in from all over the country, offering rewards, as people found themselves inspired by Autrey's bravery. His mother beamed over him.

Monday, January 01, 2007

3,000 Deaths in Iraq, Countless Tears at Home - New York Times

3,000 Deaths in Iraq, Countless Tears at Home - New York Times:
January 1, 2007

3,000 Deaths in Iraq, Countless Tears at Home

Jordan W. Hess was the unlikeliest of soldiers.

He could bench-press 300 pounds and then go home and write poetry. He learned the art of glass blowing because it seemed interesting and built a computer with only a magazine as his guide. Most recently, he fell in love with a woman from Brazil and took up digital photography, letting both sweep his heart away.

Specialist Hess, the seventh of eight children, was never keen on premonitions, but on Christmas of 2005, as his tight-knit family gathered on a beach for the weekend, he told each sibling and parent privately that he did not expect to come home from Iraq.

On Nov. 11, Specialist Hess, 26, freshly arrived in Iraq, was conducting a mission as the driver of an Abrams tank when an improvised explosive device, or I.E.D., blew up with brain-rattling force. The blast was so potent it penetrated the 67-ton tank, flinging him against the top and critically injuring his spine. His four crewmates survived. For three weeks, he hung on at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, long enough to utter a few words to his loved ones and absorb their kindness.

On Dec. 4, Specialist Hess slipped onto the ever-expanding list of American military fatalities in Iraq, one that has increased by an average of more than three a day since Oct. 1, the highest three-month toll in two years. On Sunday, with the announcement of the death in Baghdad of Specialist Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Tex., the list reached the somber milestone of at least 3,000 deaths since the March 2003 invasion.

The landmark reflects how much more dangerous and muddled a soldier’s job in Iraq has become in the face of a growing and increasingly sophisticated insurgency. Violence in the country is at an all-time high, according to a Pentagon report released last month. December was the third deadliest month for American troops since the start of the war, with insurgents claiming 111 soldiers’ lives. October and November also witnessed a high number of casualties, 106 and 68 respectively, as American forces stepped up combat operations to try to stabilize Baghdad.

“It escalated while I was there,” said Capt. Scott Stanford, a National Guard officer who was a commander of a headquarters company in Ramadi for a year, arriving in June 2005. “When we left this June, it was completely unhinged. There was a huge increase in the suicide car bombs we had. The I.E.D.’s were bigger and more complex.”

“And it was very tense before we left in terms of snipers,” said Captain Stanford, a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “I don’t know if there were more of them, or if they were getting better.”

This spike in violence, which has been felt most profoundly by Iraqi civilians, who are dying by the thousands, has stoked feverish debate about the nation’s presence in Iraq. Many Democrats in Congress are urging a phased withdrawal from the country, and the Bush administration is leaning toward deploying additional troops in 2007. If the conflict continues into March, the Iraq war will be the third longest in American history, ranked behind the Vietnam War and the American Revolution.

President Bush did not specifically acknowledge reaching the milestone of 3,000 American deaths, but a White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, said the president “grieves for each one that is lost” and would ensure that their sacrifices were not made in vain. The campaign against terrorism, Mr. Stanzel said, will be a long struggle.

Specialist Hess had volunteered for his mission to spare another soldier the danger of going outside the wire that day. Like so many of his fallen comrades, he had become the victim of an inescapably dangerous roadside landscape.

“It was the type of injury you rarely recover from; in past wars you wouldn’t have gotten out of theater,” said his father, Bill Hess, a Boeing engineer and retired Air Force man. “So that was a blessing, that he could talk to us. He mouthed words and we were able to say we loved him. There is a lot to be said for that.”

A Steady Toll of Deaths

In many ways, the third 1,000 men and women to die in Iraq faced the same unflinching challenge as the second 1,000 soldiers to die there — a dedicated and ruthless Iraqi insurgency that has exploited the power of roadside bombs to chilling effect. These bombs now cause about half of all American combat deaths and injuries in Iraq.

Over all, the casualty rate has remained relatively steady since 2005, dipping only slightly. It took 14 months for the death toll to jump to 2,000 soldiers from 1,000. It took about two weeks longer for it to rise to 3,000 from 2,000, during the period covering Oct. 25, 2005, to this week.

“It is hugely frustrating, tragic and disappointing that we can’t reduce the fatality rate,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst for the Brookings Institution.

The service members who died during this latest period fit an unchanging profile. They were mostly white men from rural areas, soldiers so young they still held fresh memories of high school football heroics and teenage escapades. Many men and women were in Iraq for the second or third time. Some were going on their fourth, fifth or sixth deployment.

But in other ways, the situation has changed in the past year. Improvised explosive devices — the kind that killed Specialist Hess — have grown deadlier, despite concerted Pentagon efforts and billions of dollars spent trying to counteract them. Insurgents are now more adept at concealing bombs, booby-trapping them and powering them to penetrate well-armored vehicles. They are also scattering more of them along countless roads using myriad triggers and hiding spots — under garbage and tires, behind guardrails, inside craters.

At the same time, Iraqi citizens have grown less inclined to tip off soldiers to the presence of these bombs. About 1,200 roadside bombs were detonated in August.

The toll of war has fallen most heavily this year on regular Army soldiers, at least 544 of whom died in this group of 1,000, compared with 405 in the last group. This increase was the result of fewer National Guard soldiers and reservists being deployed to Iraq in 2006.

Considering the intensity of the violence in Iraq this year, it is remarkable that the casualty rate did not climb higher, analysts and officers say. Long-awaited improvements in body and vehicle armor have helped protect soldiers, and advances in battlefield medicine have saved many lives. New procedures, like leaving wounds open to prevent infection, and relaying soldiers to hospitals faster than ever, have kept more service members alive. Troops now carry their own tourniquets.

During World War II, 30 percent of all wounded soldiers died of their injuries, a number that dipped to 24 percent during the Vietnam War and then to 9 percent for the Iraq conflict. Though this is a positive development, it also means that more soldiers are coming home with life-changing injuries, including amputations and brain trauma. More than 22,000 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq.

“There is no question that the number of dead should have been far higher,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, referring to the Iraqi conflict. “Some of these blast injuries are very powerful.”

Bombs and bullets are not the only things that can kill soldiers; nearly 20 percent of those who die in Iraq do so outside of combat operations. Sometimes it is the hazard of driving too quickly on badly rutted roads to avoid danger. Humvees, weighted down with armor, can easily flip if maneuvered too quickly. Many of Iraq’s roads are not built to hold heavy vehicles, and the ground can give way, tossing multi-ton machines into narrow canals where soldiers have drowned. Helicopters are sometimes strafed by sandstorms or crippled by mechanical malfunctions. Accidents make up two-thirds of the nonhostile deaths.

With so many soldiers carrying so many weapons, unintentional casualties occur, sometimes while handling firearms. Fire from one’s own side is another inevitability of war, as is suicide. Since March 2003, 93 soldiers have died from self-inflicted wounds in Iraq.

In a way, these deaths, coming not at the hands of the enemy, but as a consequence of inferior roads and turbulent weather, can be even more difficult for parents to accept. Sometimes they wait months for official reports, since all noncombat deaths must be investigated.

“I don’t think I ever thought something like this could happen,” said Shelley Burnett, whose son, Lance Cpl. Jason K. Burnett, 20, died in May after his tank toppled into a canal. “We talked a lot about the I.E.D.’s and the dangers out there, but Jason kept saying, ‘There is not a whole lot they can do to a tank.’ ”

Death at Roadside

Over the last two years, the Pentagon has worked frantically to harden body armor and the armor on its Humvees and other vehicles. And the insurgents in Iraq have responded just as forcefully with deadly innovations in roadside bombs, and a fury of sniper bullets.

The most lethal development is the use of the “explosively formed penetrators,” which pierce armor and stay intact when they explode. Roadside bombs are often detonated from a distance — with garage door openers, for example — or automatically, from pressure-sensitive devices, like a simple rubber air hose. Motion detectors and infrared devices are also used.

The vast majority of these bombs do not kill soldiers, or even injure them seriously. Four out of five I.E.D.’s that detonate do not cause casualties, an improvement over previous years, the Pentagon says. But those devices that do cause casualties are killing more soldiers. An analysis by The New York Times of military records found that in 2003, the devices accounted for 16 percent of troop fatalities. This year, they accounted for 43 percent. And an increasing number are killing more than one soldier.

“Unfortunately, when there is a fatal I.E.D. attack, there often are multiple wounded and casualties,” said Christine DeVries, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s Joint I.E.D. Defeat Organization. “The enemy has had some success in adapting to what we are doing.”

Lance Cpl. Jon Eric Bowman, 21, affectionate and angel-faced, was typical of many of the soldiers and marines who found their calling in the military. He was raised in rural Dubach, La., far from the razzmatazz of New Orleans, and could not wait to join after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He was first sent to Iraq early in 2005. When he came home later that year, he had changed. Three days before he was set to redeploy this September, he sat with his wife in their truck and talked for six hours.

“He was crying, he was so scared,” said his wife, Dawn Bowman, 26. “He was having dreams that he wasn’t coming back.”

In fact, Corporal Bowman had been having blackouts, migraines and a tic, new ailments from his time in Iraq, his wife said. The diagnosis was Tourette’s syndrome, and he was then told by doctors in in Louisiana that fluid had built up in his brain.

He wound up back in Iraq, anyway. “They felt he was just trying to get out of Iraq,” said Johnny Bowman, the corporal’s father, of his son’s superiors. “That there was really nothing wrong with him. That’s what he told me on the phone.”

Corporal Bowman did not push the issue, feeling guilty about abandoning his fellow marines. On Oct. 9, his Humvee ran across a roadside bomb, killing him instantly. He had been manning the machine gun.

“Jon Eric was not just my only son,” his father said. “He was my best friend.”

Lance Cpl. Jeromy D. West, 20, a mortar man who loved to fish as much as he hated to study, was killed on Nov. 25 by a sniper bullet as he stood guard on a roof in Haditha. It was his second deployment.

In December, shortly after word of his death, his family honored his wishes and held a memorial for him on the football field at Hamilton High School, near San Diego, where he had been a star player. A thousand people showed up.

“Everybody liked him,” his stepfather, Ron Klopf, said. “People would say, ‘God, your son is polite.’ And I would say, ‘My kid?’ I called him Eddie Haskell — so polite at everybody else’s house.”

Corporal West was goofy in the best way. Not long before he joined the Marines, he and his friend would compete to see who could get a bigger freeze headache from eating too much ice cream. They would writhe in pain. Then they would do it again. He was 17 when he decided to get serious and join the corps, something his parents tried to talk him out of.

“ ‘You can get killed doing this,’ ” Mr. Klopf remembers saying. “And he said, ‘Should we send some other parent’s kid out there?’ And that’s how he was.”

For Corporal Burnett, death came not from bullets or bombs but from riding in a tank in a country crisscrossed with irrigation canals and crumbly roads. Just two years after graduating from high school in St. Cloud, Fla., where he spent his summers building houses for the poor and four-wheeling on back-country roads, Corporal Burnett’s tank fell off a bridge and plunged into a canal, in which he drowned.

His mother cannot forget the day Jason and his younger brother tossed her back and forth in the yard to make her scream with laughter. “He was a fun-loving kid,” Mrs. Burnett said. “If you heard laughter, you knew Jason was around.”

Optimism was Specialist Robert F. Weber’s indelible quality. A gunner from Cincinnati, he had warned his mother, Cathy, that the roads in Iraq were wretched. She worried a lot during his first deployment, particularly after he sent home a roll of film to develop. The first print she saw was of a missile hitting a barracks.

But he made it back to America and bought a blue Kia, the color of his eyes, before redeploying three weeks later. The Army had been a good fit. “He was proud of himself,” she said of Bobby, her only child. “I was very proud. It was like he found his niche.”

On his second deployment, though, the situation in Iraq had become grimmer. “Mom, things are getting worse over here, more dangerous,” he said, from his base near Mosul the Saturday before he died. “The roads are bad. You don’t run over anything even if it looks like a piece of paper.”

But the lumbering armored Humvee he was on never hit a bomb on Sept. 30. It swerved somehow and flipped, killing him.

Mrs. Weber said she cannot imagine seeing the troops walk away from Iraq now, when democracy seems as unattainable as ever. “For what did all these guys get killed over there?” she asked, incredulously. “What for?”

Seven Days from Home

Back in America, countless families and friends have waited and worried and tried their best these past years to keep themselves busy until their husbands, sons, wives, daughters, fathers, mothers or buddies returned home safely. For 3,000 of them, the reunion never came.

In too many cases, the homecoming was tantalizingly near, a few more X’s on the calendar and the vigil would be over. A number of soldiers were killed just days and weeks from the end of their deployment, a date close enough to allow those back home to lower their guard a trifle, making the deaths all the more devastating.

“It’s almost like Christmas is here, and you wake up Christmas morning and there is no Christmas,” said Col. Bill Rochelle, a retired National Guard commander of the 42nd Division support command.

Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry, a 28-year-old marine from Lorena, Tex., was seven days from scooping up his wife, Malia, and his three kids into a group hug back in America. “My plans,” Sergeant Fry told his commander, “are to go home and wrestle with my kids.”

He and Mrs. Fry were only 15 when they went on their first date, to see “A League of Their Own,” and then to eat ice cream at the mall. Mom and Dad drove them home. A year later, he plopped her on his lap and proposed. They kept their engagement a secret. Not long after, he was named salutatorian at Heritage Christian Academy. Another student bested him for the top title; it was the future Mrs. Fry, the valedictorian.

“We were soul mates,” Mrs. Fry said. On Nov. 15, 1995, five days after he graduated from boot camp, they were married.

Mr. Fry, who liked a challenge, specialized in defusing explosive devices, a nerve-racking skill he brought with him to Iraq. “Babe,” Mrs. Fry recalled his saying when he chose the specialty, “it’s dangerous, but I want to do it. And I said, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

A team leader, Sergeant Fry, who shipped out to Iraq in September 2005, disarmed 73 bombs, including one of the biggest car bombs found in Falluja. Once he helped defuse a suicide vest that insurgents had belted to a mentally handicapped Iraqi teenage boy. The boy had been beaten and chained to a wall. Another time, he spotted a bomb from the roof of a house. A little boy popped into the yard, hovering dangerously close to it. Sergeant Fry won his confidence by playing peekaboo, then got him to move away.

He was in “very high spirits” in March, calling his wife to say that his duties were done, his paperwork filed and his anticipation impossible to stifle. “He had made it,” she said. Then a mission came down, and commanders were preparing to send a team of mostly inexperienced men to defuse bombs along a road in Al Anbar province. He volunteered for the job, instead. “That is how he led,” Mrs. Fry said.

Sergeant Fry found three bombs that night and defused them. But the insurgents had hidden a fourth bomb under the third one, a booby-trap. It blew up and killed him. An Army team stayed with his body for six hours, fending off enemy fire in the dark until soldiers with mortuary affairs arrived to take his body away.

The war never scared him, Mrs. Fry said.

“It was hard, but he felt he was making a difference,” she said. “He believed truly, that if he wasn’t over there, they would be trying to harm us here.”

Mark Mazzetti and Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

Rush to Hang Hussein Was Questioned - New York Times

Rush to Hang Hussein Was Questioned - New York Times:
January 1, 2007

Rush to Hang Hussein Was Questioned

BAGHDAD, Dec. 31 — With his plain pine coffin strapped into an American military helicopter for a predawn journey across the desert, Saddam Hussein, the executed dictator who built a legend with his defiance of America, completed a turbulent passage into history on Sunday.

Like the helicopter trip, just about everything in the 24 hours that began with Mr. Hussein’s being taken to his execution from his cell in an American military detention center in the postmidnight chill of Saturday had a surreal and even cinematic quality.

Part of it was that the Americans, who turned him into a pariah and drove him from power, proved to be his unlikely benefactors in the face of Iraq’s new Shiite rulers who seemed bent on turning the execution and its aftermath into a new nightmare for the Sunni minority privileged under Mr. Hussein.

The 110-mile journey aboard a Black Hawk helicopter carried Mr. Hussein’s body to an American military base north of Tikrit, Camp Speicher, named for an American Navy pilot lost over Iraq in the first hours of the Persian Gulf war in 1991. From there, an Iraqi convoy carried him to Awja, the humble town beside the Tigris River that Mr. Hussein, in the chandeliered palaces that became his habitat as ruler, spoke of as emblematic of the miseries of his lonely and impoverished youth.

The American role extended beyond providing the helicopter that carried Mr. Hussein home. Iraqi and American officials who have discussed the intrigue and confusion that preceded the decision late on Friday to rush Mr. Hussein to the gallows have said that it was the Americans who questioned the political wisdom — and justice — of expediting the execution, in ways that required Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to override constitutional and religious precepts that might have assured Mr. Hussein a more dignified passage to his end.

The Americans’ concerns seem certain to have been heightened by what happened at the hanging, as evidenced in video recordings made just before Mr. Hussein fell through the gallows trapdoor at 6:10 a.m. on Saturday. A new video that appeared on the Internet late Saturday, apparently made by a witness with a camera cellphone, underscored the unruly, mocking atmosphere in the execution chamber.

This continued, on the video, through the actual hanging itself, with a shout of “The tyrant has fallen! May God curse him!” as Mr. Hussein hung lifeless, his neck snapped back and his glassy eyes open.

The cacophony from those gathered before the gallows included a shout of “Go to hell!” as the former ruler stood with the noose around his neck in the final moments, and his riposte, barely audible above the bedlam, which included the words “gallows of shame.” It continued despite appeals from an official-sounding voice, possibly Munir Haddad, the judge who presided at the hanging, saying, “Please no! The man is about to die.”

The Shiites who predominated at the hanging began a refrain at one point of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!”— the name of a volatile cleric whose private militia has spawned death squads that have made an indiscriminate industry of killing Sunnis — appending it to a Muslim imprecation for blessings on the Prophet Muhammad. “Moktada,” Mr. Hussein replied, smiling contemptuously. “Is this how real men behave?”

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq’s to decide.

While privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows, the Americans here have been caught in the double bind that has ensnared them over much else about the Maliki government — frustrated at what they call the government’s failure to recognize its destructive behavior, but reluctant to speak out, or sometimes to act, for fear of undermining Mr. Maliki and worsening the situation.

But a narrative assembled from accounts by various American officials, and by Iraqis present at some of the crucial meetings between the two sides, shows that it was the Americans who counseled caution in the way the Iraqis carried out the hanging. The issues uppermost in the Americans’ minds, these officials said, were a provision in Iraq’s new Constitution that required the three-man presidency council to approve hangings, and a stipulation in a longstanding Iraqi law that no executions can be carried out during the Id al-Adha holiday, which began for Iraqi Sunnis on Saturday and Shiites on Sunday.

A senior Iraqi official said the Americans staked out their ground at a meeting on Thursday, 48 hours after an appeals court had upheld the death sentence passed on Mr. Hussein and two associates. They were convicted in November of crimes against humanity for the persecution of the Shiite townspeople of Dujail, north of Baghdad, in 1982. Mr. Hussein, as president, signed a decree to hang 148 men and teenage boys.

Told that Mr. Maliki wanted to carry out the death sentence on Mr. Hussein almost immediately, and not wait further into the 30-day deadline set by the appeals court, American officers at the Thursday meeting said that they would accept any decision but needed assurance that due process had been followed before relinquishing physical custody of Mr. Hussein.

“The Americans said that we have no issue in handing him over, but we need everything to be in accordance with the law,” the Iraqi official said. “We do not want to break the law.”

The American pressure sent Mr. Maliki and his aides into a frantic quest for legal workarounds, the Iraqi official said. The Americans told them they needed a decree from President Jalal Talabani, signed jointly by his two vice presidents, upholding the death sentence, and a letter from the chief judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal, the court that tried Mr. Hussein, certifying the verdict. But Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, made it known that he objected to the death penalty on principle.

The Maliki government spent much of Friday working on legal mechanisms to meet the American demands. From Mr. Talabani, they obtained a letter saying that while he would not sign a decree approving the hanging, he had no objections. The Iraqi official said Mr. Talabani first asked the tribunal’s judges for an opinion on whether the constitutional requirement for presidential approval applied to a death sentence handed down by the tribunal, a special court operating outside Iraq’s main judicial system. The judges said the requirement was void.

Mr. Maliki had one major obstacle: the Hussein-era law proscribing executions during the Id holiday. This remained unresolved until late Friday, the Iraqi official said. He said he attended a late-night dinner at the prime minister’s office at which American officers and Mr. Maliki’s officials debated the issue.

One participant described the meeting this way: “The Iraqis seemed quite frustrated, saying, ‘Who is going to execute him, anyway, you or us?’ The Americans replied by saying that obviously, it was the Iraqis who would carry out the hanging. So the Iraqis said, ‘This is our problem and we will handle the consequences. If there is any damage done, it is we who will be damaged, not you.’ ”

To this, the Iraqis added what has often been their trump card in tricky political situations: they telephoned officials of the marjaiya, the supreme religious body in Iraqi Shiism, composed of ayatollahs in the holy city of Najaf. The ayatollahs approved. Mr. Maliki, at a few minutes before midnight on Friday, then signed a letter to the justice minister, “to carry out the hanging until death.”

The Maliki letter sent Iraqi and American officials into a frenzy of activity. Fourteen Iraqi officials, including senior members of the Maliki government, were called at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday and told to gather at the prime minister’s office. At. 3:30 a.m., they were driven to the helicopter pad beside Mr. Hussein’s old Republican Palace, and taken to the prison in the northern suburb of Khadimiya where the hanging took place.

At about the same time, American and Iraqi officials said, Mr. Hussein was roused at his Camp Cropper cell 10 miles away, and taken to a Black Hawk helicopter for his journey to Khadimiya.

None of the Iraqi officials were able to explain why Mr. Maliki had been unwilling to allow the execution to wait. Nor would any explain why those who conducted it had allowed it to deteriorate into a sectarian free-for-all that had the effect, on the video recordings, of making Mr. Hussein, a mass murderer, appear dignified and restrained, and his executioners, representing Shiites who were his principal victims, seem like bullying street thugs.

But the explanation may have lain in something that Bassam al-Husseini, a Maliki aide closely involved in arrangements for the hanging, said to the BBC later. Mr. Husseini, who has American citizenship, described the hanging as “an Id gift to the Iraqi people.”

The weekend’s final disorderly chapter came with the tensions over Mr. Hussein’s body. For nearly 18 hours on Saturday, Mr. Maliki’s officials insisted that his corpse would be kept in secret government custody until circumstances allowed interment without his grave becoming a shrine or a target. Once again, the Americans intervened.

The leader of Mr. Hussein’s Albu-Nasir tribe, Sheik Ali al-Nida, said that before flying to Baghdad on an American helicopter, he had been so fearful for his safety that he had written a will. Bizarrely, Sheik Nida and others were shown on Iraqi television collecting the coffin from the courtyard in front of Mr. Maliki’s office, where it sat unceremoniously in a police pickup.

After the helicopter trip to Camp Speicher, the American base outside Tikrit, the coffin was taken in an Iraqi convoy to Awja, and laid to rest in the ornate visitors’ center that Mr. Hussein ordered built for the townspeople in the 1990s. Local officials and members of Mr. Hussein’s tribe had broken open the marbled floor in the main reception hall, and cleared what they said would be a temporary burial place until he could be moved to a permanent grave outside Awja where his two sons, Uday and Qusay, are buried.

At the burial, several mourners threw themselves on the closed casket. One, a young man convulsed with sobs, cried: “He has not died. I can hear him speaking to me.” Another shouted, “Saddam is dead! Instead of weeping for him, think of ways we can take revenge on the Iranian enemy,” Sunni parlance for the Shiites now in power.

Reporting was contributed by Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi and Khalid W. Hassan from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Tikrit.