Shopping for your GI? Don't forget the spare parts and body armor

12 days of Christmas

Rummy tries his hand at slumming it with service members while at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Dec. 8, 2004.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The holiday season offers Christians an opportunity to consider the different gifts they have brought to Iraq:

Let's start with civilian deaths: "Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq," The Lancet, the respected British medical journal, reported in October. "Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths, and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths."

Crude-oil exports, on which the economy relies, were averaging 1.6 million barrels a day last spring, far below the 6 million-barrel-a-day potential. All through summer and fall, the oil infrastructure has been ravaged by saboteurs blowing up pipelines and other oil facilities. As it stands, oil can't be counted on to generate the income to run the economy.

Before the war, agriculture accounted for more than one-quarter of the country's gross domestic product and 20 percent of employment. It is now in ruins. Recovery costs are estimated by the World Bank at $3.6 billion.

Electricity production was halved by the war, but though patchwork repair is coming back to pre-war levels—itself a patchwork job from the previous Gulf war—it is still far below projected needs, according to Columbia professor Richard Garfield.

Clean drinking water is scarce in many parts of the country. Sewage plants, hit in the first war and never repaired, have been further damaged. As of August, sewage from Baghdad's 3.8 million people was flowing untreated into the Tigris River.

According to August reports, some 1,000 Iraqi schools need to be rebuilt as a result of damage and looting, and almost 20 percent of the country's 18,000 school buildings need comprehensive or partial repair. There is no money to do any of this.

Various estimates put unemployment somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

The Iraqi health care system is suffering from chronic shortages of all kinds. Unsafe streets mean that health workers can't move about and supplies can't be transported. Doctors in major hospitals continue to complain of shortages of drugs used in surgery and emergency operations, anti-inflammatory drugs, vital antibiotics, and cancer drugs.

Lack of clean water and shortages of electricity make matters chaotic, with generators breaking down mid-operation and patients dying.

Asked last week about the lack of armor on U.S. military vehicles in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave an explanation that included this: "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up."

For those who find Rumsfeld's remarks confusing, here is a basic rundown on the equipment problem:

HUMVEE ARMOR: Specialist Ronald Pepin, who serves in Baghdad with the New York National Guard, told CBS News last Halloween that his unit's Humvees "have no ground plating. So if you hit something underneath you, then it's going to kill the whole crew." He added, "And that's just something you have to live with."

In June, Staff Sergeant Sean Davis of the Oregon National Guard suffered shrapnel wounds and burns and couldn't walk for six weeks after his Humvee hit a homemade bomb near Baghdad. Davis said his Humvee, which came with no armor, had been fortified with plywood, sandbags, and armor salvaged from old Iraqi tanks.

SPARE PARTS: General Ricardo Sanchez, senior commander on the ground from summer 2003 to summer 2004, wrote to top army officials, "I cannot continue to support sustained combat operations with [readiness] rates this low," The Washington Post reported on October 18. In a letter to army units, he wrote that the army was "struggling just to maintain . . . relatively low readiness rates" on such key combat systems as M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, anti-mortar radars, and Black Hawk helicopters. Units had to wait more than a month to get critical spare parts, which 40 percent of the army depots didn't even have.

There have even been problems with parts for ordinary vehicles. Six reservists, two who had received Bronze Stars, were court-martialed for scrounging equipment to keep their unit going, the Chicago Tribune reported over the weekend. One of them, Darrell Birt, said his unit didn't have enough vehicles to haul the equipment it would need, so three men in the unit grabbed two tractors and two trailers left in Kuwait by units already on their way to Iraq. Later, they scavenged a five-ton cargo truck for parts. "We could have gone with what we had, but we would not have been able to complete our mission," Birt told the Tribune. "I admit that what we did was technically against the rules, but it wasn't for our own personal gain. It was so we could do our jobs."

BODY ARMOR: In notoriously short supply, body armor is on many soldiers' Christmas lists. Some scrounge it from armor left by Iraqi soldiers; others ask their families to buy armor and send it over.

RADIOS: As I wrote on October 12, a marine report found severe communications problems. Titled Operation Iraqi Freedom: Lessons Learned, the report for the Marine Corps Reserve Forces said, "Convoys as large as 100 to 150 vehicles had only two or three military radios for long-range communications and virtually no capability for intra-convoy communications." To stay in touch, the reserve units on their own went out and bought short-range handheld radios.

AMMUNITION: Soldiers of the army's Third Infantry Division marched into Iraq in the beginning of the war without enough ammunition to fight, according to published reports. Division commanders asked months ahead of time for more ammo for frontline units, but couldn't get enough. "Every attempt to gain the ammunition assets resulted in some agency or another denying requests, short-loading trucks, or turning away soldiers," the report said. "The entire situation became utter chaos."

CLOTHING: Soldiers couldn't get proper footwear. "Days before we flew out from North Carolina to Kuwait," one soldier recalled, "some Marines were still not being provided with the correct size desert boots. There were extra boots left, but none that would fit. The unit was allotted only a certain number of boots for each size. Still, others were issued two pairs of boots . . . the older type and a new type just released. The Marines without boots had to pay for cabs to bring them outside of the base to a military surplus store in town, where they could buy desert boots that actually fit."

by James Ridgeway Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti. © daVoice

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