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2004-12-22

Attack on U.S. Base in Mosul: Deadliest Incident for U.S. in Iraq Since Start of Occupation

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In Iraq, 22 people–including 14 U.S. soldiers, 4 U.S. military contractors and 4 Iraqis–died Tuesday in an attack on a US military base outside of Mosul. It marked the deadliest single attack on Americans since the start of the war. We hear a report from an embedded journalist who was on the scene and we speak Paul Rieckhoff, a former soldier who served in Iraq and is founder of Operation Truth. [includes rush transcript]

It is being called the single-most deadly incident in Iraq for Americans since the invasion began in March of 2003. On Tuesday afternoon in Iraq, a powerful explosion ripped through a mess tent where soldiers were gathering for lunch at a US military compound in the northern city of Mosul. 22 people were killed, including 14 U.S. soldiers, four American civilians and four Iraqis. More than 70 people were wounded.

A reporter embedded with the troops in Mosul, Jeremy Redmon of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, described the attack like this:

  • Jeremy Redmon, Richmond Times-Dispatch, speaking in Mosul.

Shortly after the attack, the commander of the base at Mosul, Brigadier General Carter Ham described the incident.

  • Brigadier General Carter Ham, speaking in Mosul.

Meanwhile, president Bush commented on the attacks after emerging from the Walter Reed Army hospital where he was visiting wounded soldiers. Here is some of what he had to say.

  • President Bush, speaking in front of the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC.
  • Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director and Founder of Operation Truth, a nonprofit organization set up to give voice to troops who served in Iraq. He served a tour of duty in Iraq from April 2003 to February 2004 where he was stationed in central Baghdad.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A reporter embedded with the troops in Mosul, Jeremy Redmon of the Richmond Times-Dispatch described the attack like this.

JEREMY REDMON: A huge explosion rocked the whole building. I looked up and about 50 yards from me there was a gigantic fireball, in the ceiling of this tent. It’s really just a cavernous tent. There were hundreds of soldiers in there having lunch at the time. I remember there was a bright blue sky, very few clouds, people were cheering, they were having lunch, enjoying themselves when it happened. As soon as the explosion and the fireball occurred, scores of soldiers ran out of the tent and crammed into these concrete blast barriers, and then I ran out and was observing what was going on and I started seeing the wounded come out one at a time. Soldiers that were very quick thinking and turned their dining room tables upside-down and placed the wounded on top of them. I counted one, and then two, and then four and six and eight wounded coming out. There were folks that were in shock. There was blood all over the floor, food, trays. It tore a pretty large hole in the roof of the tent. Outside, they set up — several medics showed up and set up an area where they were working on the soldiers in the parking lot. It was really sort of a sea of wounded and dead. There were people crying. There were folks that were numb. They collapsed in grief. It really was unreal.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an eyewitness report from Jeremy Redmon of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, embedded with the troops. Shortly after the attack, the commander of the base at Mosul, Brigadier General Carter Ham described the attack.

CARTER HAM: Today, shortly after noon, at one of our bases in southwest Mosul, there was a single large explosion in a dining facility. We don’t yet know the source of that explosion. The investigation is ongoing by explosives experts to determine the source. The attack today had a very negative effect against multinational forces and our Iraqi partners here in Mosul. So far more than 20 have been killed, and more than 60 wounded. The killed include U.S. military personnel, U.S. contractors, foreign national contractors, and Iraqi army. The wounded also come from those various groups. We’re going through the process now of making notification to the families and the units of those who were killed and wounded in today’s tragic attack.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Brigadier General Carter Ham speaking in Mosul following Tuesday’s attack. Meanwhile, President Bush commented on the attacks after emerging from Walter Reed Army Hospital where he was visiting wounded soldiers. Here is what he had to say.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Today we had a rocket attack that took a lot of lives. Any time of the year is a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life. This time is particularly sorrowful for the families as we head into the Christmas season. We pray for them. We send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones who suffered today. I just want them to know that the mission — it’s a vital mission for peace. The idea of a democracy taking hold in what was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush yesterday, coming outside of Walter Reed Hospital. We’re joined in our Firehouse Studio here in New York by Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Operation Truth, a non-profit group set up to give voice to the soldiers who are in Iraq. Paul Rieckhoff himself served a tour of duty in Iraq from April 2003 to February 2004. He was stationed in central Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Thank you very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the attack on the mess tent in Mosul.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Well, it’s obviously a horrible day, but my first response is that it is a miracle that it hasn’t happened sooner. We really have a tremendous number of troops concentrated in very small areas. The insurgency is growing and becoming more organized. So even in my time in Iraq — I was there for about a year — we always used to say, man, if these guys land a mortar in a lucky spot or if they ever land a rocket in a lucky spot, there could be tremendous casualties. I think that’s what we saw yesterday.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what we were beginning to hear yesterday was that people had complained before that this was a very vulnerable area. Hundreds of people gather for meals in a tent.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: What about that?

PAUL RIECKHOFF: It’s what we call in the military a "soft target." There is really no protection, no fortification around it. It’s not uncommon in many of the massive forward operating bases. There are massive tents where troops gather for recreation, for physical training or for meals.

AMY GOODMAN: And don’t wear any of the armor, if they have it.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Correct. And sometimes they’re up to maybe a kilometer inside the base. With mortars and rockets you can fire these indirect fire weapons from up to miles away. So it’s really a tough situation and they can get very lucky, and it may have been lucky or they may have had someone inside that really could have tracked the distance and direction of the mess tent and observed the American solders’ movements.

AMY GOODMAN: It might not have been a rocket. It’s possible something exploded within, right? They haven’t yet —

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Sure, it’s definitely possible. The bases are definitely not absolutely foolproof from infiltration.

AMY GOODMAN: How does this fit into the larger story of protection of troops? Is this something that you’ve been on for a while now?

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Absolutely. At Operation Truth recently we called for Congressional investigations to get to the bottom of the Rumsfeld armor scandal. We saw a few weeks ago that Mr. Rumsfeld really doesn’t understand the reality of the battlefield on the ground. And we later found out that the Armor Holdings Company could have increased production of armor by over 22% a month and a half before Rumsfeld was exposed. So we wanted Congress to get to the bottom of this, and Congress announced last week that they will be having investigations to find out who is accountable. Our members will hopefully be a part of those investigations.

AMY GOODMAN: The story of the military vehicles not being protected has been going on for a long time before this brave soldier asked the question of Rumsfeld. In fact, he was asked about it before by soldiers in Iraq, although soldiers were warned when Rumsfeld came to Iraq not to ask him these questions publicly.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Specialist Wilson, the young soldier who challenged Rumsfeld, really has a lot of guts. And I think he was doing what we always do in the military, taking care of our own. He hasn’t seen a response quickly enough from the military. It’s been over a year-and-a-half now and our troops on the ground still don’t have what they need. So he did the right thing, and he challenged Rumsfeld. I would have that guy in my platoon anytime. He was really doing the right thing and speaking truth to power, which is what our soldiers should be doing.

AMY GOODMAN: What needs to be done with the vehicles?

PAUL RIECKHOFF: I think we really need to pull out all of the stops. We have heard more and more excuses from Washington and less solutions. We need to know why this hasn’t happened sooner and we need to know what’s going to be done right now to speed up the production. To say that it’s a matter of physics on the part of Rumsfeld is ridiculous. Our people need the equipment they need on the ground right now and they don’t need any more excuses.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this Rumsfeld poll? TheWashington Post/ABC News poll shows support for Rumsfeld at 35 percent, half of what it was after the fall of Baghdad.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: I think it’s very troublesome. I think it shows that the American public sees that Rumsfeld is disconnected from the war and he’s performed poorly. Earlier this week Operation Truth called for an investigation on the part of the Senate to have hearings to determine a confidence or no confidence vote. We don’t pick our boss in the military, but we understand that due to Rumsfeld’s recent performance, it’s starting to affect our men and women in uniform. When people in the Senate come out every day and say they don’t have confidence in him, when the American people don’t have confidence in him, it’s up to the Senate to take action and really get to the bottom it. Give Rumsfeld a chance to address this criticism but also find a course of action that will result in leadership for the men and women on the ground that’s effective.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s Republicans that we’re talking about. Senators like Trent Lott.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: Trent Lott, Hagel, McCain, they’ve come out recently. It’s important to see that now that the election is over, people are really addressing the reality of what’s happening on the ground in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: What about how troops are feeling? At the same time you have President Bush saying he now has a mandate after the election, you have a higher level, it seems, than ever of people unhappy within the military, and even it bubbling to the surface in situations like the soldier asking the question of Rumsfeld in a large, public place.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: I think at the core of it is the fact that our military is overextended. 55 percent of our folks in Iraq right now are there for a second time. 45 percent are National Guardsmen and Reservists. We continually are moving troops from other parts of the world into Iraq which is a very unstable combat zone. It’s a dangerous place and it’s going to wear on the military over time. It’s something that America should be concerned about. They should understand that our men and women have been asked to do a tremendous amount and in very little time, and it’s starting to pull at the seams of our military, and it’s going to endanger our national security.

AMY GOODMAN: We also reported yesterday a new poll by ABC News and Washington Post finding that the percentage of Americans who feel the war in Iraq is not worth fighting has reached an all-time high. Nearly 60 percent of people in the United States say they disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War. So, we’re not just talking about Rumsfeld.

PAUL RIECKHOFF: It’s been clear from the outset that they underestimated the insurgency. They underestimated the financial cost and the human cost and they underestimated the equipment that would be necessary to allow us to be successful on the ground. They have really had a poor plan. It’s a poorly executed plan. At the same time, they haven’t planned for the human cost that’s to come for soldiers coming back with post traumatic stress disorder, suicide, depression, funding the V.A. It’s been a flawed plan from the start. It’s really starting to bubble up and the American public sees that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Paul Rieckhoff, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Operation Truth, a non-profit group set up to give voice to troops who served in Iraq. Your website?

PAUL RIECKHOFF: It’s optruth.org.

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