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BAGHDAD – Christmas week is an appropriate time to write about a district here called Ameriyah. Eighteen months ago, Ameriyah was a hellhole where al-Qaida in Iraq ran rampant, assisted by local resistance groups and criminal gangs. It was a predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood, where Shiites were expelled or murdered, along with Sunnis who didn’t cooperate with the killers. Shops were shuttered, and families were afraid to leave their houses.
BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City on Sunday while an Iraqi died when a bicycle-riding suicide bomber blew himself up amid a mass rally against Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza. The two attacks were demonstrations of the violence that still flares up in Iraq as the government prepares to take responsibility for security from the U.S. military in a few days.
BAGHDAD – A pair of car bombs killed more than two dozen people on Saturday, shattering a recent period of calm and serving as a grim reminder that recent gains remain fragile as Iraq prepares to take over security responsibilities for much of the country. The attacks included one in the Iraqi capital – the first major attack in more than a week – that killed at least 22 people and injured 54.
BAGHDAD – America’s relationship with Iraq will undergo a sea change this week. On New Year’s Day, the status-of-forces agreement recently signed by Washington and Baghdad will take effect. From that day on, Iraq must sign off on all U.S. military operations. The accord also calls for all U.S. combat troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, and for all U.S. forces to leave the country “no later than Dec. 31, 2011.”
BAGHDAD – Three years ago, a note appeared at Lita Kaseer’s door. It contained a bullet and a one-word message: “Leave.” Kaseer did flee, along with hundreds of other Christian families from the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad, once a vibrant Christian community.
BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki canceled an official trip to Iran, officials said Thursday, surprising colleagues in his government. Al-Maliki’s office said the trip was postponed after officials in the two neighboring countries failed to agree on specific dates. His office had said previously the trip would follow a visit to Turkey that ended Wednesday.
First Lt. Mason McCoy hopes for just one thing for Christmas: a bit more sleep. McCoy, a member of the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade, said he and other members of Delta Company don’t lack for much at their home base in Balad, Iraq. They have the Internet and e-mail, packages from home, decent food in the dining hall and a chance to eat American fast-food on base.
BAGHDAD – Ambassador Ryan Crocker was holding his last meeting in the grand marble rooms of Saddam Hussein’s former palace, before the U.S. Embassy formally moved into new quarters and returned the building to the Iraqi government. My interview with him constituted that meeting, and the ambassador – who completes his assignment in January – was in a ruminative mood.
BAGHDAD – Most of the committees created to guide the transition from U.S. to Iraqi control of security in the country have yet to appoint members, let alone convene, the senior American general in Iraq said Tuesday. Committees assigned to deal with U.S.-led combat operations and jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel are among those that have not met even as Iraq moves toward sovereignty, U.S. Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters.
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi parliament approved a security agreement Tuesday allowing British troops and other non-U.S. foreign forces to stay when a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31. The vote followed the resignation of the volatile parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who had offered to quit his post last week when lawmakers loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr refused to discuss the agreement.
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush was expected to appear before a judge today in the first step of a complex legal process that could end in a criminal trial, a government official and the reporter’s brother said. Muntadhar al-Zeidi has been in custody since Sunday, when he gained folk hero status across the Arab world by throwing both shoes at Bush during a news conference. Bush ducked twice and was not injured.
Getting ready for the holidays has been tough for Cheryl O’Boyle, whose husband Matthew is serving with the Army National Guard in Iraq. “There’s time you just don’t want to deal with it,” she said in an interview this week.
Hauser Lake’s most famous Marines, Robert and Matt Shipp, were headed home for the holidays Wednesday. The twin brothers, and Robert’s wife, Dusty, were due at Spokane International Airport late Wednesday night. The men have been training at separate Southern California bases since spring, when they returned from their first tours of duty in the Middle East.
With her son and her husband both called up for Iraq with the Washington National Guard’s 81st Combat Brigade, Cindy Ashworth used to listen when the candidates talked about their stances on the war. These days, she’s not hearing any answers. “I get so sick of the campaigns that I’m really not paying attention anymore,” said Ashworth, a Deer Park preschool teacher. “This is not a simple, black-and-white issue. There are no sound-bite answers.”
Michael Paccerelli earned a Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Iraq in 2004 when an improvised explosive device destroyed his Humvee. But the paperwork got lost twice, and the medal didn’t catch up with him until Friday in Spokane. Although the delay was puzzling, Paccerelli did see one advantage to receiving the medal four years late.
Here is a glimpse at some of the Marines serving with Cpl. Matthew Shipp in India Battery of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. The battery is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and began a tour of duty in Iraq in October. Lance Cpl. Stephan Bush, of Pennsylvania, has two brothers in the military, including an identical twin who recently finished a 15-month tour in Iraq. His older brother served on the USS Germantown with Matthew's twin, Lance Cpl. Robert Shipp. "We miss each other a lot," Bush said of his twin. His mother keeps three stars in her window to signify the service of her sons.
COMBAT OUTPOST NORSEMAN, Iraq – Wearing a uniform that hadn't been washed in months and operating on a typical ration of five hours of sleep, Cpl. Matthew Shipp chambered a bullet in his machine gun and set off on his fourth patrol of the day. The 20-year-old U.S. Marine from Hauser Lake, Idaho, sat in the front passenger seat in the "lead vic" – the first vehicle – of the small convoy. Dust had been wiped from the bulletproof glass in hopes of making it easier to spot the spider strand wires that trigger roadside bombs.
The fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq found Cpl. Matthew Shipp negotiating potentially bomb-rigged streets in the city of Rutbah on his way to pick up captured insurgents.
In the three decades since the Vietnam War, Spokane's Gold Star Mothers had all but disappeared. Only a handful remained when the chapter was dissolved several years ago. "If we had known this Iraqi thing was coming along, we would have waited," said Myrtle Sherburn, 85, a past president of the Gold Star Mothers in Spokane.
After nearly two months in the Kuwait desert preparing for combat, the men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were frustrated; instead of marching into Iraq, they were ordered back to their ship. Among the Marines was Lance Cpl. Robert Shipp, one of the Hauser Lake, Idaho, twins whose lives have been chronicled in The Spokesman-Review for two years by reporter James Hagengruber and photographer Brian Plonka.