Stories by Rod Nordland

  • JUST A LITTLE LONGER

    Hussein Hashimi has a CD-ROM full of pictures of the dead. For the last two months, the young Shiite says, Sunni extremists rampaged through his hometown of Madaen. They torched the local police stations, abducted dozens of members of the local Shiite minority, burned down the mosque and killed not only the imam but his 8-year-old son. Many Shiite families fled; others barricaded themselves in their homes. Last week Iraqi security forces finally came in and restored order. Hashimi has lists of the missing and of the dead who have been identified. He has the names of the alleged perpetrators and a map showing the home of the Sunni he accuses of being responsible for the atrocities.So is Hashimi fighting back? Not at all. "We just ran away," he says without a trace of embarrassment. "Sistani and the religious authorities in Najaf decided not to use force, so we couldn't do anything." To the Shiites of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's word is law. "We must obey."Their obedience was...
  • No Deal

    Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari was in an expansive mood as he sat down for an interview with NEWSWEEK earlier today. Aides crowded into the library of his home with him, beaming with the news that after two-and-a-half months of wrangling, today they would finally be announcing a government of national unity. The Shia who won the National Assembly election January 30, and the Kurds who won the second largest bloc of seats, had cut a deal that would bring Sunnis into the government despite their election day boycott. "We as Shias have suffered from exclusion and we don't want anyone else to go through this," said Jafari. "We are keen to be welcoming, especially for the Sunnis, and this you will see reflected in the ministries of the new government." The deal on the cabinet would be announced later in the day, and on Sunday formally unveiled in detail before the National Assembly. That was at 11.30 a.m."Wishful thinking," scoffed Sheikh Ghazi al Yawer, vice-president of the new...
  • Marking Time

    It's always dangerous making predictions, and nowhere more so than in Iraq. When voters defied terrorist attacks to cast their ballots in the Jan. 30 election, some officials forecast that as soon as the votes were counted the newly elected National Assembly would agree on a new government, which would immediately take over from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim administration. That was the "big bang" theory, and it was almost instantly proved wrong.It took two weeks to certify the vote, but that milestone passed without a government in place as the victorious Shia and the second-place Kurds negotiated endlessly. Then the parties agreed that the National Assembly would convene March 16, and it was expected that surely they'd have a government by then. No such luck. Even before the event, the man expected to be prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, warned, "It might be a day or two, more or less." Yet once the assembly met this week, amid high security and perfunctory pomp, it was more,...
  • Iraq's Post-Election Big Bang

    But since it's clear that the United Iraqi Alliance has won well over 50 percent, and probably closer to two-thirds of the national vote, it is they who will decide on the government. And the 21-member executive committee of the Alliance, popularly known as the Shia List, has been meeting all week to hammer out the transition so it's ready once the count is complete. With a four-to-one lead in the preliminary results over their next nearest rival, the incumbent Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the Shia can pretty much do as they wish.The formal counting has been proceeding in slow motion, with technical problems delaying vote tallies from the most troubled provinces in the Sunni Triangle (Anbar, Salahuddin and Diyala) and Mosul (Nineveh), plus the three Kurdish provinces in the north. But a NEWSWEEK analysis of partial returns, provided by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) on Feb. 4, suggests strongly that the Alliance has won a landslide victory by an even-larger...
  • FREE TO BE ANGRY

    Iraqis often point out that Saddam Hussein talked about freedom and democracy almost as much as the Americans do. Back in his day, Iraqis were free to vote in one-party elections, and did so with such zeal that he once won 104 percent of the vote. When the Americans arrived almost two years ago, most Iraqis had high hopes for much better. Now every major poll shows an ever-larger majority of Iraqis want the Americans to leave. In next week's elections, not a single major candidate is campaigning on a pro-American platform. Mostly, Iraqis miss the freedom to read by electric light, or to bathe with running water--which were in extremely short supply in Baghdad the past week. Compared with Liberty with a capital L, those may seem like minor inconveniences--until you don't have them.Elections aren't necessarily going to make people feel much better. Sunni moderates are mostly boycotting the elections, while Sunni insurgents threaten to kill anyone who participates. In most cases,...
  • Baghdad's Checkpoint Madness

    Iraqis do a first search, and then Americans perform the final checks and vet visitors' ID cards and badges. Then come the weapons-clearing chambers, sand barrels that you point the gun into while clearing any rounds from the chamber. On all sides are Alaskas and Tescos--contraptions of wire and sand of various styles--making for a grim landscape through which much of the population must pass at one time or another.The whole point of the exercise, repeated thousands of times a day, is to prevent attacks, especially from suicide bombers, and to minimize the deaths of soldiers and protected persons. Letting others in with courtesy and efficiency is way down on the list of checkpoint priorities, as one cabinet member of the Iraqi government found out last week. Minister of State Adnan al-Janabi, an intimate of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, tells NEWSWEEK that he was so incensed by his treatment by American soldiers as he tried to enter the Green Zone to go to a cabinet meeting that he...
  • BAGHDAD: GOOD FOOD, BAD LOCATION

    Not long ago there were great places to eat in Baghdad. Like Nabil's, with first-rate Lebanese cuisine and fine wines, even belly dancers on holidays. It was blown up by a suicide car bomber. Thin-crust, wood-oven-baked pizza at the Napoli was a hit with both press and troops stationed at the nearby Green Zone checkpoint called the Assassins' Gate. It was machine-gunned in a drive-by, fixed back up, damaged by a suicide bomber and reopened again. Now takeout is strongly advised. Dragon Bay offered Chinese food so good even NEWSWEEK's Beijing bureau chief, on a visit last year, praised it; it soldiered on until militants delivered death threats because it served liquor. Sheish Shaban, a garden restaurant on a downtown boulevard, offered discreet tables behind some bushes. By the end of summer, any foreigner foolish enough to venture out was turned away by Iraqis who didn't want bullets for dessert. Iraqi diners had it bad themselves. Downtown Fallujah's Al-Haj Hussein was famous for...
  • HOW MANY BOOTS ON THE GROUND

    Many U.S. troops say it's one more broken promise. They landed in Iraq planning to rotate out after six months. Then Washington extended their stints to a full year. That was the limit, the Pentagon swore: just "365 days, boots on the ground," not a day longer. But last week the brass announced the decision to raise U.S. troop strength in Iraq by 12,000--meaning, among other things, that roughly 10,000 Americans now in Iraq can count on stretching their stay to 14 months. The new boost, the biggest since March 2003, will bring America's military presence in Iraq to 150,000. That total is more than it took to invade Iraq in the first place.No one knows how long the buildup will last. The reinforcements are needed, and not only to provide security for the Jan. 30 elections. Last month's U.S. assault on the insurgent-held city of Fallujah may have been a success, but the aftermath has been a disaster. On the highway to Baghdad's main airport, suicide bombings have gotten so frequent...
  • HERE LIES PEACE

    Imagine an alternative America for a moment, in which the black minority had ruled for hundreds of years. Whites were excluded from public office, rarely allowed in the police or Army and largely disenfranchised. Jails filled to bursting with whites suspected of plotting against the black regime. Hispanics were discriminated against as well, targeted for massacre by poison gas, until a successful rebellion in the Southwest led to a self-governing Latino enclave around New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. A black dictator ran the rest of the country with such savagery that a foreign power toppled him, on the second try.It's easy to see where this rough analogy is going. It works well enough to help understand the depth of the enmities and passions underlying the crisis of an Iraqi transition from Sunni to Shia rule, with Kurds as the wild-card minority, and the difficulties of imposing a peaceful solution whatever the outcome of elections planned for Jan. 31, 2005. Many if...
  • Hell to Pay

    WHOEVER WINS, THE ROAD AHEAD IN IRAQ IS ROUGH. BOTH BUSH AND KERRY HAVE PLANS THAT DEPEND ON NEWLY TRAINED IRAQIS. BUT INSURGENTS ARE KILLING RECRUITS, AND INFILTRATING THE FORCES. A REPORT FROM THE FRONT.
  • A MARKET IN HUMAN LIVES

    The phone rang at 7:05 p.m. in Amman. Muhammed Ezza nearly knocked over a table as he grabbed the receiver. It was five minutes past the deadline that had been set by his brother's Iraqi abductors for a reply to their $500,000 ransom demand. Three dozen of Hisham Taleb Ezza's kinsmen--brothers, cousins and in-laws waited together last Wednesday evening in a room in the Jordanian capital. They had no way to scrape up such a fortune, but they were ready to empty their bank accounts, borrow against their pensions and sell their cars for anything they could raise. Hisham had been working in Baghdad as an accountant for Starlight, a transport company with U.S. military contracts in Iraq, when gunmen seized him on Oct. 2. Starlight's general director, a Jordanian named Muhammed Ajlouni, had quickly agreed to shut down the company's Iraqi operations, as the kidnappers ordered, but he said he couldn't raise a half-million dollars. "If you can't get the money," the kidnappers told the Ezzas,...
  • THE MEDIA: 'NO SENSE OF SAFETY'

    Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson doesn't scare easily. In April, radical armed Shiite militiamen detained the Middle East bureau chief for Knight Ridder newspapers on suspicion that she was a CIA agent. Sarhaddi Nelson eventually convinced her captors that she was a journalist and remained in Iraq to finish her monthlong assignment before taking a break. When she returned to Baghdad last month, even she was surprised by the breakdown of order in the city. "There is no sense of safety anywhere in Baghdad," says the Iranian-American reporter. "Journalists have became targets."Foreign journalists have joined U.S. troops, Arab truckdrivers, Iraqi National Guardsmen and European aid workers as attractive prey. In August, jihadists captured and killed an Italian reporter, and two French journalists were kidnapped days later; their whereabouts remain unknown. Last week CNN aired live footage of a rocket attack on a Baghdad hotel where Fox News and The Washington Post have offices. "It is absolutely...
  • No Place Is Safe

    Life In Baghdad: Some Suicide Bombings Don't Even Get Headlines Anymore
  • Freedom's Reign?

    At least now Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III can go home and buy a decent pair of shoes. He had on a blue suit over the usual incongruous hiking boots when he attended the furtive handover ceremony at which he formally ended the American occupation of Iraq and granted sovereignty to Iraq's interim government. For his 13 months as the American administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), he wore those boots. Was there mud in his armored car, or on the floorplates of his Blackhawk? Was he making that many tours of the farmlands of the Two Rivers? Even Iraqi officials who were disposed to like him, marveled at those boots. They were, at least, a constant reminder that this was a war zone, as if anyone here needed to be reminded.The ceremony itself was a fitting expression of the spin with which American officials have at least managed to persuade some of their friends, and perhaps even themselves, that all is well in Iraq. Officials at the CPA's Office of Strategic...
  • Puppets or Players?

    The whole event at the old Saddam Presidential Museum was very New Iraq, with a twist. The smell of raw human waste wafted up from the flooded toilets and permeated the entire building; Coalition Provisional Authority advance men said they had tried unsuccessfully for two weeks to get the plumbing fixed. High overhead, the Saddam Clock Tower was stuck at 8:05, still bombed out more than a year after the "shock and awe" military campaign.It was May 31, and everyone thought the inauguration of Iraq's new interim government, convened by the CPA in great secrecy, would be over in the Green Zone, so that's where the mortars were hitting; still, close enough to hear them. In the museum's conference hall, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi introduced Iraq's nominal new leaders. And in the hour of speeches that followed, there was barely a single mention of the words "United States" or "America." Ambassador Paul Bremer, the CPA head, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military...
  • The Man Who Won't Be Prime Minister

    For a day or two last week, it looked like the prime minister of the Iraqi government that is scheduled to take over when the Americans transfer sovereignty on July 1 would be a soft-spoken physicist named Hussain al-Shahristani, who once headed Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission and was jailed by Saddam Hussein for refusing to help develop nuclear weapons. United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's first choice for the post, Shahristani is a respected Shiite close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani but with no political affiliation or connection with the American occupation authorities. For the last year, Shahristani has been running a relief agency in Najaf and Karbala. Opposition to him from established politicians like Iyad Allawi, head of a CIA-backed exile group Iraqi National Accord, reportedly led Shahristani to withdraw from the running last week. The present U.S.-appointed Governing Council on Friday chose Allawi, also a Shiite, to head the government. NEWSWEEK's Rod Nordland met...
  • The Decent Thing

    The meeting took place late last year, before the grotesque images out of Abu Ghraib. U.S. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the general in charge of the now-infamous prison, sat in on a staff meeting with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and his military legal team. The discussion: how to cope with overcrowding as detainees poured in. At one point a senior British officer spoke up. "The best solution is to find a way to release these people instead of building more and more detention facilities," he said. "Why don't we just do the decent thing?" Recalling the incident, Karpinski tried to conjure up the incredulity with which U.S. commanders greeted the Brit's effrontery: "They looked at him like, 'Who asked you?' "The Brits and the Americans have always done peacekeeping differently in Iraq. British paratroops in Basra favor berets and a less intimidating kit than the Kevlar-helmeted, body-armored Americans to the north. Older and wiser--or so they like to...
  • Moderates Feel The Heat

    Seldom have moderate Arab leaders felt so besieged by events. President George W. Bush gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon his unqualified backing on April 14 at the White House. Shortly afterward, Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Rantisi was killed in a missile strike--prompting Jordan's King Abdullah to cancel his own visit to Washington.Saudi Arabia has seen new terrorist attacks; in Iraq, fighting has spread and the uneasy siege of Fallujah goes on. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, a Sunni Muslim and billionaire ex-businessman, has presided over his country's reconstruction after 17 years of civil war, forging strong relations with Western countries as well as Arab neighbors. Last week he spoke with NEWSWEEK's Rod Nordland in Beirut. Excerpts:NORDLAND: Have the prospects for Mideast peace ever seemed so bad?HARIRI: These are the most difficult days yet. We are witnessing a drastic change.With what effect on Arab moderates?What is happening between the Israelis and the...
  • Box Score for the War

    The U.S. military in Iraq doesn't like numbers, or at least it doesn't like to add them up. Soldiers killed in Iraq are announced, incident by incident, in terse press releases that give the scantest of details. The U.S. Marine Corps is the most parsimonious with information. When Marines are killed in Fallujah, which has happened often, the Corps has only this to say (as it did on April 14): "Four Marines assigned to 1 Marine Expeditionary Force were killed recently as a result of enemy action in the Al Anbar Province while conducting security and stability operations." The province covers a swath of Iraq bigger than Belgium, but Fallujah is where they're actually fighting.In addition to the minimalist announcements, the military avoids keeping any sort of running tallies, particularly when things are going badly. The Pentagon has also studiously refused to release estimates of enemy casualties, although these are indeed detailed in every after-action report. "We don't do body...
  • AVOIDING THE CROSS HAIRS

    They live in hiding. They move around Baghdad by stealth. They sneak into and out of the country by gloom of night, and when challenged by strangers for their nationality, they're ready with a practiced lie. Asked where they live, they name any old hotel rather than their safe house, which is littered with guns of a half-dozen types. They even resort to disguise and camouflage. Perhaps this is what it's like to be a terrorist hunted by the American military; I can't say. But for sure this is what it's like for those of us who are American civilians living and working in Iraq.I didn't anticipate this. When one of our translators confided last July that he hadn't even told his wife, let alone his neighbors, that he worked for Americans, I was skeptical. "She talks a lot," he explained. It turned out NEWSWEEK's other Iraqi staffers had done the same--and for good reason. As the months went by, and the military became harder to hit, the insurgents turned to soft targets. In the last few...
  • The Iraqi Intifada

    Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian philosopher who is required reading for all military officers, talked about the "culminating point" in a war, when an army's resources are outstripped by the demands placed upon it. That point may be approaching now in Iraq. "There are several million young men in Iraq who are now seeing us in a whole new light," says Pat Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. "We have something like 130,000 troops in Iraq.We probably do not have more than 60 thousand or 70 thousand fighters in that force. They are spread across a vast area." In Lang's view, the United States must either shift that tipping point by bringing in more troops, or we withdraw. "To back away from the hostiles will enormously encourage our enemies. We have no choice but to fight it out and defeat the growing revolt in Iraq," he says. "Once you drive your car off the cliff, there's not much you can do to affect the outcome."Maj. Gen. John Abizaid, the U.S. Army's Central...
  • Have Agent, Will Travel

    Here goes. I pick up the telephone and dial my travel agent, while on my computer the Web browser is loading. Google is up on the third ring; he answers on the fourth. I want to go to Salalah, Oman, a destination that I'm sure he's never sold before. While I explain that I'd like to find a good seaside hotel there--"Oman, not Amman"--I'm simultaneously typing "Salalah hotel beach" into the search engine. Up come a bewildering array of hits on Web sites you'd have never dreamed existed: "oman-hotels.reservations.org" seems likely. It turns out to be a dummy site, one of literally hundreds, that bounces me somewhere else. As I navigate from one to another, each trying to collect its little referral fee, I'm bombarded with pop-ups; I turn Ad-aware on and block them. By now my friendly human has named the three most likely hotels, and wants to know my dates.Meanwhile, I've turned in exasperation to a well-known travel site, Expedia, and come up with only two of the three hotels he's...
  • Open Season

    It's tempting to try to explain away the horror of the corpse-kicking crowd in Fallujah. The town is a special case, says this reasoning. A longtime Baathist stronghold, during Saddam's regime it was a sort of company town for his Mukhabarat, the secret police, in which young men served apprenticeships in torturing, snitching and assassinating. And during the opening days of the war, a misplaced bomb destroyed the family home of a prominent tribal leader, killing him and 16 members of his family. Some claim Sheik Malik had been a secret friend of the Americans, but now his huge tribe, the Yarba, are sworn to revenge.Another factor: in the first weeks of the U.S.-led occupation, a demonstration went wild and ended up with American soldiers from the 82d Airborne shooting 15 protesters dead in the streets. In this tribal Sunni Triangle town, that meant dozens more close relatives sworn to revenge. Then the U.S.'s First Marine Expeditionary Unit took over a few weeks ago, with much...
  • Shark Attacks

    When insurgents fired a rocket into the Sheraton Ishtar Hotel in downtown Baghdad yesterday, it was hardly the first time, and fortunately once again no one was hurt. What was remarkable was the Agence France-Presse wire story about the attack, quoting a journalist who lives in the heavily fortified hotel: " 'A rocket hit an air-conditioning unit on the sixth floor and knocked down a small portion of a wall,' the journalist said on condition of anonymity."Recently, another major American news organization moved its entire staff into the Sheraton, but its bureau chief asked that the organization's name be withheld, even though the hotel is crammed with other Western journalists. Another news organization, according to sources who cannot be named, was evacuating a translator after she received death threats for working for Americans. And a bureau chief for a third major news organization, who also asked to remain anonymous, said three of its local Iraqi staff had quit yesterday after...
  • SHEIK FADLALLAH

    Sheik Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah is the senior religious leader of Lebanon's 2 million Shia and spiritual leader of Hizbullah. Still classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, Hizbullah has more recently gone mainstream, fielding candidates in national elections, sponsoring social programs for the poor and banning the terrorist tactics espoused in the mid-1980s. NEWSWEEK's Baghdad bureau chief Rod Nordland spoke with the cleric at his well-guarded home in the Beirut suburbs. Excerpts:NORDLAND: Does the liberation of Iraq's Shia change your view of America?FADLALLAH: America is responsible for a great part of what Saddam did, including his obtaining WMD. It encouraged him in the war against Iran and later Kuwait, so as to legitimize its own military presence in the gulf. Saddam was a monster, but America supported that monster as it does many others in the world.Still, Saddam issued a death sentence against you. Don't you owe some debt of gratitude?None. America was...
  • Setting a Bad Example

    Spanish voters this week handed Al Qaeda its greatest victory yet in the war on terror. For the first time, it managed to topple an enemy's government, and change a major Western country's foreign policy. And they did it with only 10 small bombs, detonated apparently with cheap cell phones, placed during rush hour in the suburbs of Madrid on the eve of national elections. The terrorists managed to persuade enough voters to turn against the ruling, and favored, Popular Party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and throw the election to his Socialist opponent, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.And one of Zapatero's first pronouncements was to confirm his party's determination to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. Whatever anyone thinks about the justness of the war in Iraq, it's a sad development for democracy--and a signal to everyone that terrorism not only works, it can even win.In many ways, the Madrid bombing was the first time a major Al Qaeda action accomplished what it intended....
  • SHEIK AL-HAKIM

    Ayatollahs, like popes, do not give press interviews. But they do want to be heard. Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Hussein Saeed al-Hakim is one of Iraq's top four ayatollahs, who make up the howza, the supreme religious authority for the country's Shiite Muslims. Another grand ayatollah, Ali Sistani, the most senior of the four members of the howza, is so influential that when he called for direct elections to choose a government to rule Iraq, the Americans felt obliged to comply. Last week he accepted a plan to hold a ballot by the year-end. Al-Hakim's spokesman and son, Sheik Muhammed Hussein al-Hakim, met with NEWSWEEK's Rod Nordland at the cleric's home in Najaf. His views are those of his father and the howza, he explained, including Sistani. Excerpts:NORDLAND: Beginning March 2, Iraq's Shia will for the first time be able to celebrate ashura, honoring the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. The self-flagellation ceremonies are famous but the holiday also calls for passing out food and drink...
  • Is Zarqawi Really the Culprit?

    The stark fact is that we don't even know for sure how many legs Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi has, let alone whether the Jordanian terrorist, purportedly tied to al Qaeda, is really behind the latest outrages in Iraq. What is clear is that the Iraq conflict has elevated suicide bombing as a weapon of war to a scale never before seen, not only in numbers of victims, but in numbers of attackers, and their ability to field large number of suiciders at the same time.Aside from the evidence suggested in a letter attributed to Zarqawi intercepted by officials earlier this year, we don't really know much more now than we did when Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case before the U.N. Security Council for war in Iraq in February, 2003. In that presentation, Powell cited Zarqawi's presence in Baghdad--where he may or may not have gotten an artificial limb fitted after a wound suffered in Afghanistan--as, if not a smoking gun, at least a smidgen of a powder burn linking Saddam Hussein to al...
  • MONEY: BET YOUR BOTTOM DINAR

    When the smugglers came to Nabaroh with suitcases full of the stuff, people in the Nile-delta city went wild. Om Alaa, a 63-year-old widow, sold her gold wedding ring to buy some. Ahmed Abul-Ela, a farmer, traded his only buffalo for a couple pounds of it. Khaled and Alaa, co-owners of a taxi, sold their vehicle to get in on the action. Last week Cairo finally sent in the police forces to get the place under control. Soldiers stopped and searched every newcomer for what has become the hottest new contraband, not only in the delta but across much of the Mideast: Iraqi dinars.Baghdad's American administrators hoped the new bills would catch on--but not like this. The idea was to replace Iraq's old dinars with higher-quality bank notes, tougher to counterfeit and without the portraits of Saddam Hussein. (The new bills display historical figures and national landmarks.) By Jan. 15, when the three-month changeover ended, 4.5 trillion new dinars had been issued. But with the Iraqi economy...
  • All I Want For Christmas...

    American soldiers may be the best equipped in the world, but you wouldn't know it from talking to them on the battlefields of Iraq. The typical soldier has spent $2,000 of his own money augmenting or replacing his military equipment to adapt to Iraqi conditions. That's especially true in National Guard and Reserve units, but even regular U.S. Army soldiers find themselves doing jobs they aren't equipped for. Standard-issue gear isn't up to keeping them sage from the sorts of guerilla attacks they most often experience: drive-by shootings, RPG ambushes and roadside bombs against convoys. Fortunately, nearly all soldiers have reliable postal and Internet service now. The result has been a mail-order shopping boom that threatens to make the term GI obsolete (originally from Government Issue). But a soldier's salary goes only so far. For families looking to send a little cheer, NEWSWEEK's correspondents have compiled a holiday wish list straight from soldiers in Iraq: