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Today The Times’ Baghdad correspondent writes about how British forces in Iraq not only fight, but also actively try to build Iraq as a country by contributing with charity work and getting involved in the local community:

From front-line fighting to charity work in Iraq

From fighting on the frontline to raising money for charity, soldiers from 5th Battalion The Rifles have kept themselves busy during multiple tours in Iraq.
Exactly six years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Chamberlain, Commanding Officer of 5 RIFLES, was leading a company of soldiers across the Kuwaiti border into southern Iraq as part of the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
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Now his servicemen and women are part of the final rotation of British troops deployed in Iraq, where their work is much less hostile.
Daily tasks include securing the British base at Basra airport, training elements of the Iraqi security forces and preparing to transport all their kit home — a big change from battling enemy forces.
In their free time, soldiers have managed to collect more than 25,000 pounds for Project 65, which backs a number of long-standing military charities that support soldiers and their families.
Among various fund-raising events at the Basra base were a fun run and a ‘Premiership’ football tournament.
Twenty teams from the British and Iraqi Armed Forces staged the tournament earlier this month, with each team playing in a strip of a current Premiership squad. The final was between Wigan (Iraqi police) and Sunderland (Royal Air Force). ‘Wigan’ kicked its way to a 2-0 victory.
An auction was held after the match to sell the football kits, raising 4,300 pounds. The Premier League matched the sum to bring the total to 8,600 pounds for Project 65.
The 5 RIFLES are due to start returning to Britain in the coming months, hopefully in time for three teams of soldiers to take part in a 65-mile money-raising run organised by Project 65 from Dorset to Normandy, an event due to take place between June 4 to 6.
“The aim of the run is two fold: To replicate the Pegasus Bridge operation of D-Day ‘man-for-man’ and to raise 500,000 pounds for the care and support of wounded armed forces veterans,” according to the web site www.project65.net.
If you fancy sponsoring the 5 Rifles on their latest mission you can go to: http://www.justgiving.com/5rifles.
In addition to the run, wives will be jumping out of an aeroplane to represent the gliders who took part on June 6th 1944, by doing tandem freefall jumps.

[Picture by Peter Nicholls: Lieutenant Colonel Edward Chamberlain, Commanding Officer, 5th Battalion, The Rifles.]

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This brings to mind an article about the differences between American and British troops in Iraq in The Guardian from April 1, 2003:

Coalition Divided Over Battle for Hearts and Minds
British Military Critical of US Troops’ Heavy-Handed Style with Civilians
by Richard Norton-Taylor and Rory McCarthy in Camp as-Sayliyah, Qatar
Cracks are appearing between British and American commanders which have serious implications for their future operations in Iraq.

Senior British military officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds.

They also made plain they are appalled by reports over the weekend that US marines killed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, as they seized bridges outside Nassiriya in southern Iraq.

“You can see why the Iraqis are not welcoming us with open arms,” a senior defense source said yesterday.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the army, drove home the point at a press conference in London on Friday. “We have a very considerable hearts and minds challenge,” he said, adding: “We are not interested in gratuitous violence.”

British and American troops “must convince the Iraqis of their good intentions”, echoed Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister. It was not clear whether he was referring to any particular incident.

Yesterday, British officers described the very different approach between UK and American soldiers by pointing to Uum Qasr, the Iraqi port south of Basra and the first urban area captured by US and UK marines. “Unlike the Americans, we took our helmets and sunglasses off and looked at the Iraqis eye to eye,” said a British officer.

While British soldiers “get out on their feet”, Americans, he said, were reluctant to leave their armored vehicles. When they did do so – and this was the experience even in Uum Qasr – US marines were ordered to wear their full combat kit.

One difference emphasized yesterday by senior British military sources was the attitude towards “force protection”. A defense source added: “The Americans put on more and more armour and firepower. The British go light and go on the ground.” He made it plain what approach should be adopted towards what he called “frightened Iraqis”.

British defense sources contrast the patient tactics deployed by their troops around Basra and what they call the more brutal tactics used by American forces around Nassiriya.

US marines in the southern Iraqi town appeared to have fired indiscriminately, with orders to shoot at civilian vehicles. One was reported to have knowingly killed an Iraqi civilian woman.

According to reports from journalists and military spokesmen in the area, British troops – Royal Marines and the 7th Armored Brigade, the Desert Rats – have played a patient, waiting game.

An officer described it yesterday as “raid and aid” – a combination of raiding parties against specific targets such as local Ba’ath party leaders, and at the same time delivering aid to the local population.

Unlike their American counterparts, British commanders have said they will not change their tactics following the suicide bombing attack last week on a group of US marines in Nassiriya.

The British military put the difference in approach down to decades of training as well as experience – first in colonial insurgencies in Malaysia, then in Northern Ireland and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

Experience
“42 Commando’s last tour was in Northern Ireland,” Major Tim Cook of the Royal Marines said yesterday, referring to the unit now in Uum Qasr. Before that it was in Sierra Leone. Other commandos in southern Iraq had recently been based in Pristina, provincial capital of Kosovo.

Sir Roger Wheeler, former head of the army, points to the “experience, awareness, and skill” – particularly important among non-commissioned officers such as corporals and sergeants. “British NCOs have the confidence,” a senior officer echoed yesterday.

What is striking is the emphasis senior British military figures are placing on the differences between their approach and that of the Americans on the ground. They have gone out of their way to draw attention to nervous, “trigger-happy” US soldiers.

American commanders say they are getting the message. Brigadier General Vince Brooks, a senior US officer at central command in Qatar, said yesterday his troops had a “heightened awareness” about civilians on the battlefield.

He said soldiers were now aware they were facing a “set of regime players who will quickly put themselves in civilian clothes, hide weapons, do things that are inconsistent with the laws of armed conflict, exhibit brutalities against civilians.

“We still make determinations on the ground about whether a threat is posed or not. It is very, very difficult to sort that out.”

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, went out of his way over the weekend to say his troops were learning from the British.

After agreeing with General William Wallace, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, that the enemy was responding in a way that the allies had not “wargamed” for, he said American – as well as British – forces could afford to be patient.

US marines in Nassiriya have said they had asked British troops for instructions in how to conduct urban warfare.

They began using new tactics in operations around the town yesterday when they started searching suburbs of the city block by block.

“We are going in to go block by block and we are going to weed out all enemy personnel,” said Captain Rick Crevier, a company commander with the US Marines.

British military sources are now concerned that the experience in peacekeeping and unconventional warfare of British troops will mean they will be in Iraq long after the Americans have left, even for years, in policing and humanitarian operations.

Shortly after George Bush was elected president, the former chief of defense staff, Lord Guthrie, told the Guardian that the new administration was moving towards light, flexible forces which can “get there quicker but not stay around for ever”. He added: “The Americans talk about the warrior ethic and … that peacekeeping is for wimps.”

Iraq has shown that the quick-light-flexible force strategy has not worked. The concern here among military chiefs is that the experience will mean the US will want to get out of places even quicker, leaving the British and others to continue fighting the battle for hearts and minds.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003


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Today riots occured in Umm el-Fahm, a town in Israel with a large Arabic population, between locals and Jewish ultra-nationalists. The British newspaper The Times reports:protest_08_585x435_508826a

Rising ethnic tensions were underscored in Israel today as violent clashes took place in one of Israel’s biggest Arab towns between Jewish ultra-nationalists and local youths.

Police dispersed rock-throwing Arab residents of Umm el-Fahm with stun grenades and tear gas in the town, which is close to Israel’s boundary with the occupied West Bank.

The outbreak of violence took place following a march by right-wing Jews aiming to demonstrate sovereignty over the town, which has a strong Islamic movement.

Michael Ben-Ari, a lawmaker from the far-right National Union party who took part in the march, said: “I want to say that if we don’t wave the flag in Umm el-Fahm … we will bring a state of Palestine all the way to Tel Aviv.”

Among the leaders of the march was Baruch Marzel, who led the anti-Arab Kach party that was banned in 1994 and who has been questioned several times by police in connection with attacks on Arabs.

Umm el-Fahm is in an area of Israel where many of the country’s 1.5 million Arab citizens live, and which Mr Lieberman wants to to cede to a future Palestinian state in exchange for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Mr Lieberman has been slated to become foreign minister in the Netanyahu coalition. protest_10_585x435_508828a

More than 2,000 police were deployed as a buffer between the flag-waving Israelis, including many from openly anti-Arab political groups, and residents of Umm el-Fahm. Toward the end of the march, scores of townspeople, some bearing Palestinian flags, threw rocks at the Jewish demonstrators and at police, who responded with teargas and water cannon. At least 16 residents and 15 police were injured. Reports suggested that a senior police chief was also hurt.

Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab MP, slammed the Jewish demonstrators as racists. “Racism is not freedom of expression, it’s a criminal act and the law should punish it,” he said.

The fact that far-right, anti-Arabic organizations exist and conduct aggressive demonstrations such as this one, with what looks like the protection of Israeli Police, is alarming. Extreme nationalism and fanatical religious views, among Jews as well as Arabs, seem to cause a lot of tension in Israel.

In Art Spiegelman’s Maus we can see how Jews were treated under Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish regime. The far-right anti-Arabic groups in Israel expressing ideas such as “if we don’t wave the flag in Umm el-Fahm … we will bring a state of Palestine all the way to Tel Aviv,” to some extent resonates the Nazis’ fear of the Jews and their efforts to make German towns “Jew free.”

maus1_p331

The day after he had been inaugurated, President Barack Obama ordered that torture no longer are to be used by the United States. He also ordered the controversial prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed within a year. Both of these issues have damaged the image of the United States. In a democracy, method like the ones used at Guantanamo should never be accepted. Arresting random people and detaining them for years with no trials. It seems like President Obama is trying to restore some kind of dignity in the way the US fight wars. Obama has sent out a message to the world. The United States will fight the war on terror, but with different means than under President Bush.

Obama has argued that the war in Iraq is a big mistake, it is Afghanistan President Bush should have focused on. In October 2002, Barack Obama said: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. … You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s finish the fight with Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.”

Al Jazeera makes it clear that it is not an easy task that lays ahead for the Obama administration:

“President-elect Obama should break from the Bush legacy of treating Pakistan as hired help rather than valued ally. Pakistan has paid a heavy price for being America’s frontline ally. Thousands of people, including 2,000 military personnel, have been killed in terrorist attacks since 2001. Economic losses are estimated at $34 billion.

Three decades of strife in Afghanistan have taken a heavy toll on Pakistan. George W. Bush’s flawed Afghan strategy compounded by the fatal distraction of Iraq, widened the conflagration and pushed the war into Pakistan.

Obama has pledged a troop surge in Afghanistan. But without a fundamental change in strategy, this may increase the sense of occupation and mire the United States in a war without end. Moscow deployed more than 150,000 troops at the height of its occupation of Afghanistan and failed to avoid defeat.

A more realistic approach must start with redefining U.S. goals, and distinguish between what is vital and attainable (disruption of terrorist networks) and what is desirable but best left for Afghans to undertake (transforming society).”

I have chosen sources that I believe will present a good mix of different perspectives.

1. BBC News

The largest broadcaster in the world, the BBC, is a widely recognized news organization that offers a good critical perspective on world affairs. It strives to “be free from both political and commercial influence and answer only to its viewers and listeners.”

2. Al Jazeera

I believe it is important to include a source from the Arabic and Muslim world. This will provide a different perspective than that of Western media.

3. The Jerusalem Post

This source will provide a Jewish perspective on the Middle East.

4. The New York Times

The New York Times is one of the major newspapers in the United States, and the world, and offers an American perspective on the world.

5. The Times

This English newspaper is traditionally a moderate, center-right publication, and offers a fairly balanced perspective.

6. Klassekampen

This small Norwegian newspaper is clearly Marxist, rather obvious from its name: “The Class Struggle.” I believe that it offers a different viewpoint than the regular mainstream media of the Western world.

7. The Guardian

The Guardian, with roots in working class Northern England and a bias towards the Labour Party, offers a viewpoint from the mainstream left in the UK.

8. The Sandbox

This military blog offers an inside perspective on war from the soldiers themselves.

9. Google Reader search: Obama and War

I want to find out what the new president and his administration are doing when it comes to wars. How will Obama handle the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what diplomatic solutions the US might be able to provide in Gaza?

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