Lost amidst the already minimal coverage of the House Iraq funding bill defeat (though the vote to force Iraqis to pay for reconstruction passed) was the appearance on the Hill of a number of Iraq veterans. Telling Congress of their experiences and actions in Iraq – including their personal tales of abuse of Iraqi detaineed, these veterans called for an immediate withdrawal.

Following their testimony, one soldier, Matthis Chiroux, made an even stronger statement standing in the Capitol Rotunda:

Chiroux joined the army straight out of high school nearly six years ago, and worked his way up from private to sergeant.

He served in Afghanistan, Germany, Japan, and the Philippines before he was honorably discharged and placed in the reserves.

As a reservist, he was due to be deployed next month in Iraq.

On Thursday, he refused to go.

"I stand before you today with the strength and clarity and resolve to declare to the military, my government and the world that this soldier will not be deploying to Iraq," Chiroux said in the sun-filled rotunda of a congressional building in Washington.

"My decision is based on my desire to no longer continue violating my core values to support an illegal and unconstitutional occupation… I refuse to participate in the Iraq occupation," he said, as a dozen veterans of the five-year-old Iraq war looked on.

Chiroux joins a growing number of veterans and active military who are refusing to participate in war crimes.

At the same time, the US command in Iraq was trying to defuse reactions to the news that a US sniper had used a copy of the Koran for target practice. That soldier has been removed from Iraq but we will have to wait to see whether any further action is taken. Given the growing influence of the "Christian Embassy" and similar groups in the US military, the persistence of stories of religious intolerance by US forces is sadly not surprising.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the occupation continues to place families at severe risk – from violence and arbitrary detentions – and from food shortages and lack of safe water. The latest news is that drought is leading to even worse conditions as wheat and barley crops are decimated:

Farmers in the Diyala province in Iraq have been hit by just about every crisis possible. First the security disaster dried up supplies and markets, then lack of electricity cut irrigation, and now comes a drying up of water resources. …

“The shortage of water is the biggest threat that Iraqi agriculture has ever faced,” an employee in the directorate-general of irrigation for Diyala province, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “It threatens not only food but also employment in this city (Baquba, capital of the province). …
The government is doing little to help people over this crisis. “The directorate is impotent and can give nothing to the farmers,” the irrigation centre employee said. “Hundreds of thousands of acres are now desolate, and thousands of people jobless.”

Most villagers work in farming, and now that farming no more sustains people as it did, life there is badly hit. Agriculture in this area kept Iraq supplied, and also produced enough for exports. But now farmers sometimes have a hard time feeding themselves.

e57f5972-6ef6-45b6-a61a-adfe49622ff1.thumbnail.jpgAs always, one way we can aid the Iraqi people as they face these threats is to support the work of the Red Crescent who are doing their best to supply water, food and medicine throughout Iraq. Helping them is one way we can stand with brave troops like Matthias Chiroux and the ones who spoke to Congress this week and work to make a difference for the people of Iraq.

Photo of Red Crescent activities courtesy of GorillasGuides.