Archive for category Jane Stillwater
I’ve called attention before to Jane Stillwater, a talented writer and one of the world’s most intrepid bloggers. On her own initiative, she obtained press credentials and went to Afghanistan and Iraq (twice) on a shoestring budget. During first visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone in April 2007, Jane outdid CNN, putting Senator John McCain on the spot with a tough question. Then she interviewed members of the Iraqi parliament an hour before they were attacked by a suicide bomber. Going back again last October, she embedded with the US Marines in Anbar Province and met with Sunni insurgents who have now joined forces with the Americans.
Jane’s book, Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Hints For Touring Today’s Middle East, offers entertaining first person accounts of what it is like to go to Mecca on Hajj, plus Egypt, Palestine, Afghanistan and of course Iraq.
So, why did the Army cancel Jane’s embed with the 3rd Infantry Division? Last month they said she was good to go, and she bought a plane ticket to Kuwait. Soon afterwards, however, her permission to embed was suddenly withdrawn, due, allegedly, to battlefield conditions. Then they gave another reason for not being embedded — that Jane didn’t have enough of a readership. After she provided evidence that she indeed has more than 600,000 readers, it all came to down to a typical military “because we said so.”
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Unbelievably intrepid blogger Jane Stillwater is with the Marines at FOB Hit (pronounced “HEAT”), Al Anbar Province, Iraq. You can read the full account of her trip to Iraq on Jane Stillwater’s Web Log. Here are some excerpts:
“Ms. Stillwater, you will be riding in the Seven-Ton,” said the platoon gunner as our convoy started to line up for the two-mile drive into the city of Hit, population 200,000. “A year ago you couldn’t even drive down the street here without getting shot at. But now you can go to the market and even walk around without being in any danger.” Hey, I’m in a Seven-Ton. I’m good to go.
Still and all, as safe as the streets may be, having the governor come to town is a good opportunity to show off some brute force — sort of like on Veterans Day. Give the folks a show. And what a show it is! We gots the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Police Force and a whole bunch of Marines parading down the main street. We’re impressive. We’re awesome! You should see me in my flak helmet and vest. I’m awesome too. But really. Hit is now supposed to be a quiet town — like after Gary Cooper became sheriff in “High Noon”. The school marms are safe.
…Anbar province has its good points and its bad points. Bad points? Many parts of Anbar are desolate and barren as hell. A lot of the children I’ve seen here look undernourished. Poverty is apparent in the rural villages. The Marines I am staying with in the FOB live in fairly primative conditions and there’s no pumpkin pie at their dining facility. Heck, they don’t even HAVE a DFac. And the internet connections at FOB Hit suck eggs.
And the good points here? Ah, the Marines. They are a well-trained, tight-knit group who write really funny stuff on the walls of the latrines and drive really cool muscle cars with awesome names like “Strykers”. And the Iraqis themselves tend to be kind, hospitable and generous to a fault and would give you the shirt off their backs if you act justly and fairly with them. And the people of Anbar are trying really, really hard to make omelets out of the broken eggs handed to them by Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney.
…Yes, I am aware that assassinations and car-bombs make more vivid headlines back in America and that “if it bleeds, it leads” sells more newspapers (and blogs), but still…. Peace is good news too. The people of Anbar are tired of being terrorized and being afraid of their own shadow all the time. And now they are willing to come forward and stand up for peace. And if they can do it in the middle of danger-ridden and war-torn Iraq, then we can do it in America too. It’s time for us Americans to stop cowering every time we hear of a Code Orange alert and also start standing up for peace.
Guys, you have NO idea how safe and protected and pampered you are back home in America. Most of you would last about three days at FOB Hit — if that. So. Man up, America and start fighting for PEACE too.
From what I can tell, the war in Iraq is pretty much over. Or it CAN be over if we want it. All that American soldiers have to do over here is to play the good-guy card just a little bit longer…if they can just do that, can hang in there a little bit longer while the “insurgents” continue to shoot themselves in the foot….
Are there still insurgents in Al Anbar? Yes. Is the area totally secured? No. But when I went to a hearing held by the governor the other day to find out what the concerns of the citizens of Hit were, the people were talking about getting schools repaired, getting water treatment plants up and running, getting sewage pipes laid, getting more access to the courts. Security, the end-all and be-all of the last governor’s hearing, was now way down on the list.
Why is that? Because the Marines in Al Anbar are doing a great job. Period. Their mission here is to help the Iraqis become self-sufficient and then step back. And that is just what they are doing.
Yep, my favorite blogger and intrepid war correspondent Jane Stillwater has made it to her embed with the U.S. Marines in Al-Anbar Province in Iraq. Here are some excerpts about the journey so far, from Kuwait to Baghdad’s Green Zone and on to “the middle of nowhere” (I Googled for a couple of pictures to illustrate Jane’s prose):
Then, finally, at 6:30 am, our plane took off and guess what? They had run out of space in the hold of the airplane and I was FORCED to ride up front in the cockpit. I am here to tell you that those guys are surrounded by all kinds of dials, wires, levers, switches and knobs. Plus I got to see everything as we went into the famous approach to the Baghdad airport, diving suddenly straight down while taking evasive action at the same time. Air sickness suddenly became a real possibility.
Once on the ground, I wandered around looking dazed and confused from lack of sleep and dragging a whole bunch of luggage behind me (it finally showed up) until someone finally took mercy on me and stuffed me into a bus to the nearest military transit camp and the nearest dining facility. The DFac! Yea! For lunch we had barbequed chicken, chef’s salad, mashed potatoes and — gasp! No pumpkin pie! So I sacrificed for God and Country and suffered along with plain old sweet potato pie. Ah the hardships of War.
I’m over here in Iraq right now. Two nights ago I ran the blood-alley road from the Baghdad airport into the Green Zone. It was spooky. In the dead of night, a herd of vehicles known as Rhinos pulled up in convoy, accompanied by a herd of Strykers and we put on our Kevlar and climbed aboard. Rhinos are big as a house. You wouldn’t want to mess with an angry Rhino. We made the trip unscathed.
Once in the Green Zone, I went to the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) and bedded down. The next morning, I went to the press room. And talked with the reporters there all hunched over their laptops. And everyone there was talking about Iran. Iran did this. Iran did that. And then when I watched the Republican debates on TV, there it was again. IRAN. “We need to stop Iran. We need to bomb Iran.”
When I was in Iraq last April I got stuck in the Green Zone for three whole weeks. Other reporters came and went but I just stayed here and stayed here. But on THIS trip, however, I’ve been guaranteed tours of both Fallugah and Al Asad. “Just fly into the Green Zone long enough to get credentialed, Jane, and then we’ll have you out to Anbar province the next day,” they told me at the press information center. That was four days ago. History repeats itself. I’m stuck in the Green Zone again. De Ja Voo.
People here in Iraq talk about death all the time. It has become a permanent part of their lives. Death never gets invited to dinner. But he comes. He never gets any votes here but year after year he is re-elected. In this country, he’s the one you go to if you want to get anything done. In Iraq, Death is the ultimate problem-solver. Betsy, the only way in the world that there will be any kind of truce between Al Qaeda, the Shia, the Sunni, the Americans, the Iraqi mafia, the fundamentalists, etc. is if they all get together and vote Death out of office. But that just isn’t happening here — and won’t be happening any time soon.
… I’m finally scheduled to fly out of the Green Zone tonight! Anbar province, here I come — that is, if Death doesn’t roll out the welcome mat between now and then.
After many months of bureaucratic wrangling, my favorite blogger Jane Stillwater has gotten approval to embed with the U.S. Marines in Al Asad and Fallujah. Her first-hand accounts of what’s going on in Iraq are much more truthful than the self-censored corporate media. Let’s wish her a safe journey.
Berkeley blogger off to war zone Â— again: Grandmother to embed in Iraq with U.S. Marines
by Kristin Bender, Oakland Tribune
BERKELEY Â— Berkeley blogger Jane Stillwater has been approved to embed with the U.S. Marines and will leave for the Iraq war zone on Oct. 6. In March, the 65-year-old grandmother filed 17 reports on her blog jpstillwater.blogspot.com from a borrowed computer in the Combined Press Information Center in the U.S.-protected, fortified Green Zone.
This time, she will be embedded with the Regimental Combat Team at Camp Ripper and will spend time in Al Asad and Fallujah, according to an e-mail Stillwater received Friday from the center’s media embed coordinator Spc. Michael R. Sherman II. “I’m just totally excited. … I’m just really jazzed,” said Stillwater, who is not a professionally trained journalist but is a colorful writer and a probing interviewer.
Stillwater said she is going to Iraq because she has dedicated her life to spreading a message of peace. She also said she hates injustice and corruption in any form, especially injustice and corruption paid for by U.S. taxpayers.
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According to L.A. Times reporter T. Christian Miller, private contractors working for the U.S. in Iraq now outnumber American troops. A conservative estimate is that 21,000 Americans, 43,000 foreigners and 118,000 Iraqis have replaced soldiers in various jobs ranging from armed security guards to construction and food service. That’s 182,000 contractors compared to 160,000 members of the military.
Especially worrisome are the large numbers of armed security contractors (who don’t like to be called mercenaries, don’t engage in large-scale offensive operations, but in effect have a “license to kill” in Iraq).
“We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” said William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.”
Blogger Jane Stillwater may have been the first to report that Green Zone checkpoints are being guarded by Peruvian mercs who don’t speak either English or Arabic.
Until recently, when the L.A. Times and other media outlets began filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the Bush administration has been able to keep the private war in the shadows.
In IraqSlogger, Robert Pelton points out that the media have been “slow off the mark to fully comprehend the vast scale of for profit operations in theaters of war”:
The reality seems to be that this administration is crudely and arrogantly bringing to life the next generation of warfighting. The administration has only been forthcoming when senators demand answers, hold hearings or journalists send in stacks of Freedom on Information Act requests. It appears that in the current administration making a profit from war is not discussed in public, but pursued vigorously in private.
Another concern discussed in the L.A. Times article is the use of trafficked labor to do jobs once performed by U.S. soldiers and employees.
â€œMiddle Eastern companies, including Kulak Construction Co. of Turkey and Projects International of Dubai, supply labor from Third World countries to KBR and other U.S. companies for menial work on U.S. bases and rebuilding projects. Foreigners are used instead of Iraqis because of fears that insurgents could infiltrate projects.â€
Some of the foreign workers, like Filipinos on contract with a Kuwaiti company, are hired under false pretenses and treated no better than slaves.
UPDATE: The issue of exploited foreign workers and out-of-control mercenaries in Iraq also appears today on DailyKos.
Without explanation, US military spokesmen in Iraq have taken to referring to all anti-occupation forces in Iraq as “Al Qaeda.” Most reporters have not asked whether this is propaganda coming from the Bush administration for reasons of domestic politics.
The insurgents around here are all now called â€œAl Qaedaâ€ so that Americans will obediently start thinking that our troops are now fighting the dudes who allegedly blew up the World Trade Center.
Yesterday, McClatchy correspondent Jonathan Landay noted a surge of Al Qaeda references by the military: 33 times in a barrage of news releases over the last seven days.
Apparently, this was preparation for President Bush’s latest speech at the Naval War College, which referenced Al Qaeda 27 times (emphasis added):
Iraqis are beginning to understand that al Qaeda is the main enemy for Shia, Sunni, and Kurds alike. Al Qaeda is responsible for the most sensational killings in Iraq. They’re responsible for the sensational killing on U.S. soil, and they’re responsible for the sensational killings in Iraq. Here at home, we see the bloody aftermath of a suicide bombing in an Iraqi market — and we wonder what kind of people could do that. That’s what we wonder. We’re good-hearted people. Our commanders tell me that 80 to 90 percent of these suicide bombings are the work of foreign fighters, people who don’t like the advance of an alternative to their ideology, and they come in and murder the innocent to achieve their objectives.
And that’s their strategy. Al Qaeda’s strategy is to use human beings as bombs to create grisly images for the world to see. They understand that sensational images are the best way to overwhelm the quiet progress on the ground. They aim to cultivate a sense of despair about the future of a free Iraq. They hope to gain by the television screen what they cannot gain on the battlefield against U.S. and Iraqi forces.
On Wednesday, Major General John Batiste warned Congress that it’s inaccurate to attribute all the violence in Iraq to Al Qaeda, and this could lead to major strategic errors. Batiste said the current effort in Iraq is “destroying our military, with little to show for it” and pointed out that Al Qaeda is more of a threat outside of Iraq.
The real story, from Jonathan Landay:
Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn’t exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn’t pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn’t controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.
Landay is one of the few professional journalists who are honest enough to set the record straight instead of simply repeating Bush’s propaganda.
UPDATE: Malcolm Nance on Small Wars Journal has an excellent discussion of who is really leading the fight against the Iraq occupation. Nance has also written a book, The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency.
While the formidable Jane Stillwater is waiting to get approval for a second embed in Iraq a next month, she is blogging about her trip to Afghanistan a year ago. Oh, and she’s writing a book. Jane’s unpretentious, no-bull style of writing really stands out. Other (mostly right-wing) bloggers have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, but few have written anything worth reading.
I happily applied to go off to Afghanistan with Global Exchange — including a stop-over in Dubai, the Las Vegas of the Middle East… Then, a few weeks ago, all hell broke loose in Kabul.
In the face of all this new danger, should I still go? Sure. Someone has to come back to tell America what is going on in Iraq, er, Afghanistan and how the Bush policy of killing everyone in sight in his colonies isn’t working for the rest of us Americans because injustice always leads to resistance and true Americans are supposed to be opposed to injustice. It’s a flag, Mom and apple pie thing. Bush would not understand.
… But, despite all the violence in Afghanistan, I will be perfectly safe on this trip. Why? Because I’m a female and I’m older and no one ever notices me.
“We just heard from Kabul,” said the GX rep. “The trip is on!” Good. Iâ€™ve been really bored with my daily routines lately. Going to a bomb-torn country that hates Americans should get me un-bored really fast.
Jane Stillwater is blogging her way back home from the Green Zone. As mentioned previously, Jane is a blogger from Berkeley, California who managed to get press credentials and paid her own way to Baghdad.
What has she learned from a hectic two weeks of press briefings and interviews?
On the one hand…Americans…are conscientiously trying to re-build the very thing that they themselves have destroyed. And on the other hand, they are obviously doing something very wrong out there beyond the walls of the Green Zone because after four freaking years, Iraq is STILL living in a terrible nightmare. Only this nightmare keeps getting worse.
What are the prospects for our soldiers as Bush escalates the level of violence in Iraq?
When I first came to Iraq, I was thinking that American troops should come home, like, right now. And then I decided that they were doing some good things over here — like preventing a bloodbath between the Sunni nutcases and the Shia nutcases, restoring electricity, building schools, that whole Marshall Plan route. But two things that I have seen here changed my mind. The first was when I actually saw the results of warfare up close — innocent people all bleeding and raw. And the second was when I came here to Kuwait and started watching platoon after platoon of young raw recruits getting ready to board transports to “surge” off to Iraq after, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, only two weeks of training. When I saw them standing for roll call outside their tents every morning, the words “cannon fodder” just kept popping back into my brain.
Jane’s blog is full of insight, just the polar opposite of Michelle Malkin’s mindless war propaganda.
What with yesterday’s Chris Cannon blogconference, there has been some talk about bloggers looking for chances to do some first-hand reporting.
What do you know, a blogger from Berkeley, California is leading the way. Take a look at Jane Stillwater’s Web Log. Jane is a 64-year-old grandmother who got herself accredited with the crackpot journal Lone Star Iconoclast and somehow made it to the Green Zone press room in Baghdad. She shows up at press briefings and asks the kind of questions an ordinary non-reporter American would ask, confounding the likes of Senator John McCain and Major General William B. Caldwell IV.
Compared to Michelle Malkin’s uninformative three-day propaganda excursion, Jane’s blog is a masterpiece of irony and acute observation from a unique perspective. They aren’t used to left-wing bloggers in the Green Zone, and don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t just “support” the troops, she loves them like only a grandmother could. And can she write!
These men are my boys. Hurt them and you have to go through me. Hear that, George Bush? These men aren’t just action figure toys for you to play with. These are real, living human beings. Sincere. Serious about doing their jobs — and doing them well. They deserve better than the blunders of GWB. They deserve respect. They’ve got mine.
This is from her account of John McCain’s career-ending press conference following what may be the most heavily-armed rug shopping excursion in history:
So. What did I say to Sen. McCain? I gave him my famous “Light Brigade” speech. “I have been so completely impressed,” I began, “by the quality, training, competence and skill of our troops here. They represent yet another generation in a long line of competent and capable Americans.” McCain smiled and nodded his head, thinking I had finished my speech. Not.
“But,” I continued, just getting warmed up, “our troops are also like the heroes of Lord Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’ They are fighting bravely and well in a situation caused by a blunder. So why should we senselessly continue to put our troops in harm’s way for a mistake?” …
Then I got down to the heart of my question. Giving McCain that special look that us moms usually reserve for recalcitrant children, I said, “And after this terrible blunder in Iraq, are you then going to go ahead and make that same horrible mistake in Iran?”
McCain’s answer was brief. “No comment.”
From Jane’s interview conducted at the Iraqi Parliament, which she left just an hour before a suicide bombing:
â€œPardon me, do you speak English,â€ I asked two female parliamentarians who were sitting around the cafeteria during a lunch break. They did. One was an attorney and the other was a university professor. And they were ready, willing and able to talk!
â€œThe main thing we want right now is security,” said the lawyer. â€œRight now there are no jobs, our schools are weak and there are military in the roads. Our lives have been stopped. We want to be able to safely walk on our streets without the presence everywhere of tanks and the military — like any other community would want.â€
â€œAt first, when the Americans first arrived,â€ said the professor, â€œwe had hope. Now there are no hopes.â€ She couldnâ€™t understand why the Americans invaded. â€œFor money and power?â€ In the beginning thetwo parliamentarians had been against Saddam. â€œBut now we prefer him to America, who caused this terror. They are the invisible hand behind the terrorists. They pushed the terrorists to do it. However, now we cannot tell the Americans to go away until they help to subdue the Al Qaeda, terrorists and Baathists that the Americans caused as a reaction from the occupation.â€
â€œI want the American people to know the truth,â€ said the lawyer. â€œYou cannot believe what the media says. Most of them lie. There have been many more than 3,200 soldiers killed here â€“ because they do not count the…” Her English faltered here and she stretched to try to find the right words. “…mercenaries.â€ Hummm. â€œIn Basra, Americans released criminals from the jails.â€ “Over a million Iraqis have been killed. And there are three million refugees.”
The above is a small sampling. It doesn’t do justice to the breadth of her observant first-hand reporting and witty commentary. Jane just has a few more days before she has to leave Iraq. Without any right-wing connections, she was not able to get an “embed” assignment, but being stuck in the Green Zone hasn’t cramped her style. If you have time, read her archives from March and April.