Monday, April 05, 2004

War in Iraq hits home



Little news today as most of the country takes off for Semana Santa, but papers give prominent, multiple-page coverage to the attacks in Iraq, with the death of 20-year-old Natividad Méndez Ramos (the first combat death of a Salvadoran), and the wounding of twelve other of his compatriots. One colonel explained the initial confusion around the report of four soldiers killed as due to the fact that, after Méndez was picked off by a sharpshooter, several soldiers around him feigned death so that they would not be targets.

According to his mother, Méndez had joined the army at the age of 14, and was the main support for his mother and four other children, regularly giving her $170 of his $200 monthly salary. Méndez hails from cantón San Andrés, town of Guaymango, department of Ahuachapán in western El Salvador; oddly, four other soldiers currently in Iraq are also from that cantón (which translates into about 2% of the entire Salvadoran batallion). Not surprisingly, FMLN and CDU legislators quickly called for the return home of Salvadoran troops in Iraq.

About that salary.... it's worth noting that the Blackwater guys killed last week in Falluja were making up to $1000 a day; that's 150 times what this young Salvadoran was making.

Of course, all of that pales in comparison to the "secret $340,000 monthly stipend" still handed over to Ahmad Chalabi, "the Pentagon's heartthrob and the State Department's and CIA's heartbreak," according to Arnaud de Borchgrave of the Washington Times. (I suspect that this sum goes to the Iraqi National Congress, not Chalabi himself, but I wouldn't rule anything out given Chalabi's past shenanigans in Jordan, where he was sentenced in absentia to 22 years hard labor for massive bank fraud.)

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