Category Archives: occupation

out of iraq?

Last US combat troops leave Iraq

Operations officially end two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s deadline, leaving 56,000 service personnel in the country

Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian
Link to this video

The last American combat troops left Iraq today, seven-and-a-half years after the US-led invasion, and two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s 31 August deadline for withdrawal from the country.

The final troops to leave, 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, rolled in convoy across the border and into Kuwait this morning, officially ending combat operations, which began in March 2003.

Former president George Bush launched the invasion, saying: “This will not be a campaign of half measures and we will accept no outcome but victory.”

The war saw the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but became increasingly unpopular against a backdrop of heavy civilian and troop casualties, arguments over the legality of the conflict and a growing sectarian battle in Iraq.

NBC News video this morning showed the last Stryker armoured vehicles rolling through the border gate into Kuwait, officially ending US combat presence in Iraq.

PJ Crowley, a spokesman for the US state department, said that despite the departure being “an historic moment”, the US mission in Iraq continued.

“We are ending the war … but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”

NBC News said that the last soldiers to reach Kuwait were proud of the collective effort in Iraq.

“We are done with operations,” said Lieutenant Steven DeWitt of San José, California, as his vehicle reached the Khabari crossing on the border.

“This was a professional soldier’s job,” he said, describing “a war that has defined this generation of military men and women”.

“And today it’s over,” he added.

The Obama administration had pledged to reduce overall troops numbers to 50,000 by 31 August. CNN, however, said that according to the US military there were still 56,000 US non-combat troops in Iraq, meaning another 6,000 must leave if the president is to meet his own deadline.

“Over the last 18 months, over 90,000 US troops have left Iraq,” the president said in an emailed statement published by the Huffington Post.

“By the end of this month, 50,000 troops will be serving in Iraq. As Iraqi security forces take responsibility for securing their country, our troops will move to an advise-and-assist role.

“And, consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all of our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of next year.

“Meanwhile, we will continue to build a strong partnership with the Iraqi people with an increased civilian commitment and diplomatic effort.”

Months of preparation were required before the convoy set off on the 300-mile drive through potentially dangerous parts of the country. The Strykers travelled by night because of security concerns, before finally crossing into Kuwait.

The withdrawal comes in a week when a suicide bomber killed at least 60 army recruits in central Baghdad, highlighting the shaky reality US troops are leaving behind, and the fears that al-Qaida is attempting to make a comeback.

There is unlikely to be much change on the ground in the country after the end of the month, as most US military units actually began switching their focus to training and assisting Iraqi troops and police more than a year ago, when they pulled out of Iraqi urban centres on 30 June 2009.

“Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded ‘advise and assist brigades’,” said the Washington Post. “The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 US special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops.”

However despite the 56,000 service personnel remaining, The New York Times reported this morning that a “remarkable civilian effort” would be required to fill the void left by the withdrawal, and suggested the number of private security guards could double in the country over the next 18 months.

The state department will assume responsibility for training Iraqi police by October next year.

“I don’t think [the] state [department] has ever operated on its own, independent of the US military, in an environment that is quite as threatening on such a large scale,” James Dobbins, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Somalia, told the paper. “It is unprecedented in scale.”

More than 4,400 US troops have been killed in Iraq so far. The current deadline for a full withdrawal of all US forces is the end of 2011, although last week Iraqi Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari said the US would need to maintain a presence in the country beyond then.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” he said.

Iraq and the US are yet to structure an agreement spelling out future defence arrangements beyond the end of next year, but both sides have indicated that future bilateral ties could extend to border patrols as well as ongoing training and mentoring.

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building rome….

Top Defense Contractors Spent $27 Million Lobbying At Time Of Afghan Surge Announcement

With Reporting By Julian Hattem from the Huffington Post

The ten largest defense contractors in the nation spent more than $27 million lobbying the federal government in the last quarter of 2009, according to a review of recently-filed lobbying records.

The massive amount of money used to influence the legislative process came as the White House announced it would ramp up military activity in Afghanistan and Congress considered appropriations bills to pay for that buildup. All told, these ten companies, the largest revenue earners in the industry, spent roughly $7.2 million more lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2009 (October through December) than in the three months prior.

Such an increase in lobbying expenditures is partly a reflection of just how profitable the business of waging war can be. Each of these companies earned billions of dollars in defense contracts this past year. As the U.S. ramps up its military activities overseas, and the army is stretched thin by other ventures, it stands to reason that the contracts won’t dry up any time soon.

In mid-December, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill that totaled more than $635 billion. Shortly thereafter, the firm Northrop Grumman moved its corporate office to the Washington D.C. region to be closer to the heart of legislative action. Among the issues on which these ten firms lobbied, “appropriations” was the most frequently cited in lobbying forms.

“We’ve built Rome,” one longtime good-government official said of the symbiosis between contractors and the government.

On a related note, the Congressional Research Service released a report on Thursday, which showed that the number of private security contractors has bulged in the wake of Obama’s Afghanistan-surge announcement. Currently, contractors in Afghanistan make up between 22 percent and 30 percent of armed U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Below is a breakdown of the military contractor, lobbying expenditures and the amount of money the company earned in contracts last year.

Company: Boeing
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $6.13 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.71 million
Federal Contracts in FY08 (according to fedspending.org): $23,547,610,878

Company: United Technologies
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3.66 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.39 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $8,973,091,375

Company: Lockheed Martin
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3.16 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.1 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $35,729,713,235

Company: Honeywell International
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $1.94 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.66 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $2,439,634,130

Company: Northrop Grumman
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $5.43 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $3.62 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $24,921,637,857

Company: General Dynamics
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $3,000,697
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $2,496,308
Federal Contracts in FY08: $14,244,546,441

Company: Raytheon
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $2.19 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $1.9 million
Federal Contracts in FY08: $14,276,349,843

Company: L3
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $1.05 million
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $990,000
Federal Contracts in FY08: $7,464,053,901

Company: Textron
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $460,000
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $890,000
Federal Contracts in FY08: $2,858,396,315

Company: Goodrich
Lobbying In Fourth Quarter: $447, 098
Lobbying In Third Quarter: $425,529
Federal Contracts in FY08: $490,224,761

ratcheting up in iraq: violence escalates

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 8, 2009

Filed at 4:47 a.m. ET

BAGHDAD (AP) — An official at Iraq’s Interior Ministry says at least 90 people have been killed and more than 115 wounded in a series of coordinated blasts around Baghdad.

Three bomb-rigged cars exploded in quick succession on Tuesday, striking the Labor Ministry, a court complex and the new site of Iraq’s Finance Ministry — whose previous building was destroyed in an August blast.

Earlier, a suicide bomber struck a police patrol in southern Baghdad.

The Interior Ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

BAGHDAD (AP) — A series of coordinated attacks struck across Baghdad Tuesday — including three car-rigged bombs striking near government sites — killing at least 72 people and wounding 115 in the worst wave of violence in the capital in more than a month, authorities said.

The total of four attacks, which also included a suicide car bomb on a police patrol, showed the ability of insurgents to strike high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad in another embarrassment to Iraqi forces in their expanding role as front-line security as U.S. forces plan their withdrawal.

The blasts came as Iraqi officials prepared to announced the date for next year’s parliamentary elections — a move the security forces worry could bring an escalation in attacks seeking to discredit the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The core of the attacks hit central Baghdad with three bomb-rigged cars exploding in the span of a few minutes.

The targets were the latest assaults directly at Iraq’s authorities: the Labor Ministry building, a court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone and the new site of the Finance Ministry, whose previous building was destroyed in major attacks in August.

An official for Iraq’s Interior Ministry said at least 72 people were killed and at least 115 injured. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to media.

The blasts marked the most serious spate of violence in Baghdad since twin car bombs on Oct. 25 struck outside Baghdad administration offices, killing at least 155 people.

The breakdown of casualties among the sites was not immediately clear, but the most serious bloodshed had been reported outside the new Finance Ministry building.

About an hour before the Baghdad blasts, a suicide car bomber struck a police patrol in the mostly Sunni district of Dora in southern Baghdad, killing at least four people and injuring five others, said a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

In August, suicide bombers hit the Finance and Foreign ministries, killing more than 100 people.

Overall violence has dropped sharply around Iraq in the past year, but insurgents have stepped up attacks at government sites.

halliburton and erka ltd. added to “burn pit” suit by veteran

Iraq “burn pits” suit over toxic smoke filed against Halliburton, KBR, by 2 Ky. men

By Brett Barrouquere, AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Air Force veteran and a one-time contractor who served in Iraq are suing military contractors Halliburton Co. and KBR Inc., accusing the companies of exposing them to toxic fumes and ash from “burn pits” for waste.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Monday by former Air Force Sgt. Sean Alexander Stough of Stanton and Charles Hicks of Bellevue, claims the military contractors burned everything from human remains to tires in open-air pits, exposing everyone nearby to harmful ash and smoke.

The men are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

“The burn pits are still going on,” said attorney Susan Burke, who represents the two men. “It’s everything you can think of.”

The suit in Kentucky, which names KBR, Halliburton and a Turkish company, ERKA Ltd., is the latest in a string of litigation on behalf of former military members and contract workers who claim they were exposed to toxins from burning waste in the warzone. At least 32 suits over burn pits have been filed in 32 states against KBR and Halliburton, which are both Houston-based, and other contractors.

The suits have been merged for pretrial proceedings under U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus in Greenbelt, Md. Burke expects the Kentucky suit to be transferred there for pretrial purposes.

KBR spokeswoman Heather Brown said the company denies the allegations and follows military regulations on the disposal of waste.

“KBR operates burn pits in accordance with guidelines approved by the Army,” Brown said.

A Halliburton spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday. An e-mail sent to ERKA’s offices in Adana, Turkey, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Stanton, who was stationed at Camp Bucca, near Umm Qasr, Iraq, until April 2006, and Hicks, who was stationed at Balad Air Base north of Baghdad in 2004 and 2005, both claim exposure to the burn pits caused multiple medical issues, including pulmonary and breathing problems.

Earlier this year, several members of Congress asked Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to investigate potential burn pit hazards. Shinseki said his agency is conducting a health study of 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and noted the VA “has learned important lessons from previous military conflicts” as it deals with environmental exposure questions.

our soldiers and many civilians poisoned in iraq….

KBR may have poisoned 100,000 people in Iraq: lawsuit

kbrburnpitiraq

Defense contractor KBR may have exposed as many as 100,000 people, including US troops, to cancer-causing toxins by burning waste in open-air pits in Iraq, says a series of class-action lawsuits filed against the company.

At least 22 separate lawsuits claiming KBR poisoned American soldiers in Iraq have been combined into a single massive lawsuit that says KBR, which until not long ago was a subsidiary of Halliburton, sought to save money by disposing of toxic waste and incinerating numerous potentially harmful substances in open-air “burn pits.”

According to one of the lawsuits (PDF), filed in a federal court in Nashville, KBR burned “tires, lithium batteries … biohazard materials (including human corpses), medical supplies (including those used during smallpox inoculations), paints, solvents, asbestos insulation, items containing pesticides, polyvinyl chloride pipes, animal carcasses, dangerous chemicals, and hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles.”

And they did so within plain sight of US troops operating in Iraq, the lawsuit states. “In some instances, the burn pit smoke was so bad that it interfered with the military mission,” the Nashville lawsuit states. “For example, the military located at Camp Bucca, a detention facility, had difficulty guarding the facility as a result of the smoke.”

The plaintiffs note that the military “did not prevent” KBR from disposing of the waste “in a safe manner that would not have harmed plaintiffs. The military wanted the defendants to solve the burn pit problems.”

The lawsuit “claims at least 100,000 people were endangered by the contractors’ ‘utter indifference to and conscious disregard’ of troops’ welfare,” notes the Courthouse News Service.

At a hearing of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Friday, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said that KBR continues to use burn pits at the US’s largest base in Iraq.   “The Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal — Kellogg, Brown, and Root — made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke,” Dorgan said.  “Burn pits are still used at the Balad Airbase in Iraq, which is the largest US base in that country.”

A 2008 report by the Pentagon asserted that “adverse health risks are unlikely” from the burn pits, but that assertion was challenged by retired Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a biomedical sciences officer who took some of the air samples used in the report.  “Although I have no hard data, I believe that the burn pits may be responsible for long-term health problems in many individuals,” the Air Force Times quoted Curtis as saying. “I think we are going to look at a lot of sick people.”

 The plaintiffs filing the lawsuits say they have suffered from health problems ranging in seriousness from shortness of breath to cancer.  Russell Keith, a paramedic from Huntsville, Alabama, told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee his doctors believe his development of Parkinson’s disease was triggered by 15 months of daily exposure to the burn pits at Joint Base Balad in Iraq.  Another plaintiff claims to have developed kidney disease as a result of exposure.  Former KBR employee Rick Lambeth told the committee: “Since returning home in July, I have suffered from a number of respiratory problems related to the exposure. Now the military will not pay for my medical care.  They claim that these conditions … existed prior to service.” For its part, KBR says that it has been “improperly named” in the lawsuit, and points the finger at the military.

“There are significant discrepancies between the plaintiffs’ claims in the burn litigation against KBR and the facts on this issue,” Heather Browne, director of corporate communications, told the Nashville Post. Browne said that KBR doesn’t operate all the burn pits in Iraq; that the Army, and not the company, decides on burn pit locations; and that the Army decides when to fund an incinerator and when to burn waste in the open air.

storm of violence

Storm of Violence in Iraq Strains Its Security Forces

Christoph Bangert for The New York Times

Above, a child at a hospital after the bombings on Friday.

By STEVEN LEE MYERS and SAM DAGHER
Published: April 24, 2009
BAGHDAD — A deadly outburst of violence appears to be overwhelming Iraq’s police and military forces as American troops hand over greater control of cities across the country to them. On Friday, twin suicide bombings killed at least 60 people outside Baghdad’s most revered Shiite shrine, pushing the death toll in one 24-hour period to nearly 150.
Ali Yussef/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iraqis at the site of one of two suicide attacks outside a shrine on Friday in Baghdad burned incense and placed candles. Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage.

Like many recent attacks, the bombings appeared intended to inflame sectarian tensions, to weaken Iraq’s security forces and to discredit its government.

The bombings on Friday ominously echoed attacks like the one at a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February 2006 that unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed and pushed the country toward civil war.

The latest bombings — there have been at least 18 major attacks so far this month — so far have not prompted retaliatory attacks, but they have strained what remains a fragile society deeply divided between Sunnis and Shiites.

Two suicide bombers struck within five minutes of each other on streets leading to the shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson. One of the attacks, and perhaps both, were carried out by women, witnesses said.

Nearly half of those killed were Iranians making a pilgrimage to the shrine, a golden-domed landmark in the predominantly Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad that is devoted to 2 of the 12 imams of Shiite Islam. At least 125 people were wounded, many of them also Iranians.

A loose coalition of Sunni militant forces, the Islamic State of Iraq, has claimed responsibility for carrying out many of the recent attacks.

Seemingly attentive to the public wrath, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki took the unusual step of ordering the creation of a special committee to investigate the attack on Friday and the lapses in security that apparently allowed it to happen. The state television network, Al Iraqiya, reported on Friday evening that Mr. Maliki also ordered the detention of two national police commanders responsible for security in the area.

The killing of so many Iranians prompted Iraq to close its border crossing to Iran at Muntheriya in Diyala Province, through which thousands of Iranians a week pass on pilgrimages to Iraq’s holy Shiite sites.

The deadliest of the three bombings on Thursday struck a restaurant filled with Iranian travelers in Muqdadiya, a town in Diyala not far from the border. The toll in that attack rose to 56, with Iranians making up the majority of the dead. Over all, at least 89 people were killed in the bombings on Thursday, and more than 100 were wounded.

After the attacks on Friday, angry Iraqis who gathered amid the bloody debris blamed lax security and corruption of the police and government officials for what had happened. Some of their anger had a strongly sectarian cast.

“They have been ruling us for 1,400 years,” said a Shiite army soldier who identified himself only as Abu Haidar, referring to the Sunni domination of Shiites in Iraq. “We took it over for four years, and they are slaughtering us.”

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, says the recent attacks as part of a campaign called Harvest of the Good, which it announced in March.

In a statement distributed on extremist Web sites at the time, the group’s leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, ridiculed President Obama as “Washington’s black man” and called his plan to withdraw American forces by 2011 an “implied avowal of defeat.”

On Thursday, Iraq’s military claimed to have arrested Mr. Baghdadi, but what was touted as a major success appeared to be in question.

Extremist Web sites denied his arrest, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors claims and other statements by terrorist and extremist groups. The American military command also said in a statement that it could not confirm “the arrest or capture” of the leader, who the American military believes to be a fictitious Iraqi figurehead of a movement that includes many foreign fighters.

American and Iraqi officials have expressed growing concern that the Islamic State of Iraq, Al Qaeda and other extremists have been able to regroup and exploit gaps in security that are forming as American commanders have closed scores of combat outposts across the country, leaving day-to-day security in the hands of the Iraqis. “All the killing of Shiites is done by Al Qaeda,” a man who identified himself only as Abu Mohammed said after Friday’s bombings. “America was not able to finish them off. How can our forces do it?”

A senior national police official on Friday bluntly cited the limitations of Iraq’s security forces and their equipment for detecting explosives, typically hand-held wands used at checkpoints that the official described as fakes.

“We need to redeploy our security units to fill gaps because the American withdrawal gave the terrorists motives to reactivate their sleeper cells,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he said he would be punished for speaking frankly about such shortcomings. “We need more cars, modern equipment to detect explosives.”

Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

A relative of a victim of a suicide bombing outside the Kazimiyah hospital in Baghdad on Friday.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed Jasim, a senior commander at the Ministry of Defense, cited other factors behind the recent violence. They included what he called “reactions to political issues” that had divided Iraq since provincial elections in January and the release of thousands of detainees held by American forces into a feeble economy.

As part of a new security agreement with Iraq that took effect this year, the Americans are required to release all Iraqis in their custody or to transfer them to Iraqi jails. “They are releasing detainees randomly, and some of the detainees who have been released might still have contact with Al Qaeda,” General Jasim said in a telephone interview. “And when they return back to their normal life and do not find work, they return back to Al Qaeda.”

General Jasim also lamented the inability of Iraqi forces to stop attacks against what he described as soft targets, like markets and mosques. “The security procedures are continuing,” he said, “but the security forces cannot exist in every inch.”

It was not clear whether the attacks on Friday were specifically aimed at Iranians or the Shiite site they were visiting. The chief administrator at the shrine, Sheik Fadhil al-Anbari, blamed the police for failing to stop the bombings, which he said were intended to disrupt an economy that the visiting pilgrims had bolstered.

“The crowds of the Iranian visitors have brought a boom to the economy in Kadhimiya, and Al Qaeda does not want this,” he said in a telephone interview. “These attacks are clearly meant to sabotage the country.”

Mohamed Hussein and Suadad N. al-Salhy contributed reporting from Baghdad, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times from Diyala Province.

baghdad museum reopens remaining treasures

Restored Baghdad museum reopens with most of its greatest treasures

Six months ago it was unthinkable but now curators and historians alike celebrate as most of the Iraqi national museum’s original artefacts go back on display

A beheaded sculpture lies amonst rubble in the Iraqi national museum, April 2003. Photograph: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Today the shelled, looted, bullet scarred and blockaded national museum of Iraq opens its doors again, with most of its greatest treasures safe and on display once more.

It is a remarkable feat. Even six months ago, when the antiquities department began to bring in small groups of specialists and journalists to see what had once been one of the world’s greatest and most famous collections, whole galleries were still wrapped up in plastic sheeting and the security situation was judged too precarious even to speculate on an opening date.

After the invasion of Iraq, the museum’s shuttered facade, punched by a tank shell, became a symbol of the destruction in war to museum curators and archaeologists around the world. .

In the security meltdown that was Baghdad, the building was judged too dangerous even for its own surviving staff, and its outspoken former director, Donny George, fled into exile after he found a paper wrapped bullet lying at the doorstep of his home — a potent death threat against his family.

During the war the building was left defenceless and for three days it was ransacked as an American tank stood by useless because its crew had no orders to intervene.

Today, many galleries are still closed and hundreds of objects are still undergoing delicate conservation work – including some of the exquisitely carved Nimrud ivories, thought safe from the bombs in a bank vault but damaged by sewage-contaminated flooding as water pumps failed. Although visitors are unlikely to notice, thousands of objects are still missing and unlikely ever to be recovered.

In the joyful headlines over the recovery of iconic pieces such as the 5,500-year-old Warka Mask, a serenely enigmatic alabaster head smiling faintly at the absurdities of human folly, it was almost overlooked that thousands of small metal and clay pieces, inscribed tablets and amulets, seal cylinders, easy to smuggle, hard to trace, of little commercial value but priceless to historians, have almost certainly gone for ever.

The Warka Mask was recovered by the Americans after a tip-off, wrapped in rags and buried in farmland outside Baghdad. It is believed to have changed hands several times after it was stolen. The Warka Vase, a magnificently carved tall alabaster vase from the same period, snapped off at the base to steal it from its gallery, came back to the museum in pieces, wrapped in a blanket, in the boot of a car.

Many pieces were voluntarily returned by people who claimed to have held them for safe keeping. That may have been true in some cases but archaeologists believe that many were simply so famous they could neither be sold nor displayed.

That is not true of the little scraps of history, less beautiful but more precious to the experts: the poems and spells, star charts and family histories, shopping lists and tax bills inscribed on scruffy little lozenges of mudbrick or cough drop sized cylinder seals, which seeped out through Iraq’s borders into the world’s antiquities markets.

“I’m not aware of any major recovery of these pieces,” said Irving Finkel, curator of the current exhibition on Ancient Babylon at the British Museum.

“I’m not holding my breath for one.”

Finkel can read Babylonian cuneiform, and the treasures in his exhibition include a broken tablet recording Nebuchadnezzar’s capture of Jerusalem in 597BC, and a cylinder seal from 1300 BC, illustrating a ziggurat, almost certainly the origin of that wonder of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

There must be answers to gaps in the story of his exhibition in the thefts from the Baghdad museum — including objects never even catalogued, never mind published.

But today curators such as Finkel are celebrating. The museum is open. Tomorrow the work of patchworking together lost history resumes.

the demons of american occupation

CBS: KBR knowingly exposed troops to toxic dust  

 CBS News Interactive: Battle For Iraq

WASHINGTON (CBS News) ―

The military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root, known as KBR, has won more than $28 billion in U.S. military contracts since the beginning of the Iraq war. KBR may be facing a new scandal. First, accusations its then-parent company Halliburton was given the lucrative contract. And later, allegations of shoddy construction oversight that resulted in Americans getting electrocuted. Now, some other American soldiers say the company knowingly put their lives at risk, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian exclusively reports.

In April of 2003, James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard arrived in Southern Iraq to take command of more than 600 other guardsmen. Their job: protect KBR contractors working at a local water plant.

“We didn’t question what we were doing, we just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR,” said Battalion Cmdr. Gentry.

Today James Gentry is dying from rare form of lung cancer. The result, he believes, of months of inhaling hexavalent chromium – an orange dust that’s part of a toxic chemical found all over the plant.

At least one other Indiana guardsman has already died from lung cancer, and others are said to be suffering from tumors and rashes consistent with exposure to the deadly toxin.

“I’m a nonsmoker. I believe that I received this cancer from the southern oil fields in Iraq,” he said.

Now CBS News has obtained information that indicates KBR knew about the danger months before the soldiers were ever informed.

Depositions from KBR employees detailed concerns about the toxin in one part of the plant as early as May of 2003. And KBR minutes, from a later meeting state “that 60 percent of the people … exhibit symptoms of exposure,” including bloody noses and rashes.

“We didn’t question what we were doing,” a grief-stricken Gentry told CBS. “We just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR. … We would never have been there if we would have known.”

It wasn’t until the end of August that the Indiana National Guardsmen were informed that the plant was contaminated, and some say they have only just learned about it this year.  Gentry says it wasn’t until the last day of August in 2003 – after four long months at the facility – that he was told the plant was contaminated.

A new internal Army investigation obtained exclusively by CBS News says the Army’s medical response was “prompt and effective.” But even after a briefing Monday, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh says that KBR has a lot to answer for.

“Look, I think the burden of proof at this point is on the company,” Bayh said. “To come forward and very forthrightly explain what happened, why we should trust them, and why the health and well-being of our soldiers should continue to be in their hands.”

In a statement, the company told CBS News: “We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition.”

The company says it notified the Army as soon as it identified the toxin.

Still, some Indiana guardsmen say they only just learned of the risk.

“I didn’t know I was exposed to a deadly carcinogen until five years later when I received a letter,” said Indiana National Guardsman Jody Aistrop.

This is far from the first time the multi-billion dollar contractor has been accused of questionable conduct at Iraq. In addition to convictions for bribery, it’s alleged KBR provided contaminated water to troops. The company denies all charges.

“It’s going to cost American lives, I’m afraid,” Gentry said. “I love them. I love my men so much.”

So much so Gentry says he will urge each and every one of them get tested for the cancer that he fears is taking his life. A CBS News investigation has obtained evidence that a subsidiary of Halliburton, the giant energy company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, knowingly exposed United States soldiers to toxic materials in Iraq.

KBR, which was spun off by Halliburton in 2007 as a separate corporation, has previously been accused of providing contaminated water to troops in Iraq, taking kickbacks, and sending workers to Iraq against their will.

David Edwards and Muriel Kane contributed to this article.