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Weekly News Roundup: Medal of Honor, Elections, and a Major Offensive in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and Art in Iraq

written by Matt Elliott
on September 17, 2010

For the first time since the Vietnam War, a living soldier will be awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest military honor. Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a 25-year-old from Hiawatha, IA, will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor while serving in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. One day in October 2007, Giunta's small team came under attack. According to this report from The New York Times , he "took a bullet to the chest, but was saved by the heavy plates of his body armor. Shaking off the punch from the round, he jumped up and pulled two wounded soldiers to safety, grabbed hand grenades and ran up the trail to where his squad mates had been patrolling. There, he saw a chilling image: Two fighters hauling one of his American comrades into the forest. Specialist Giunta hurled his grenades and emptied the clip in his automatic rifle, forcing the enemy to drop the wounded soldier. Still taking fire, he provided cover and comfort to his mortally wounded teammate until help arrived."

ABC News interviewed Army Staff Sgt. Giunta this week; take a look at this video from ABC News to hear Giunta tell his story

The fighting still continues in Afghanistan. In fact, a major offensive just got underway this week in a band of fertile lands in southern Afghanistan. According to this AP story,"American commanders are hoping to clear the region of guerrillas and destroy their main fighting positions in the weeks and months ahead before President Barack Obama makes a critical assessment in December of the effectiveness of the 30,000-man surge. Success or failure here could determine the course of the war."

Another critical event in Afghanistan takes place on Saturday, September 18: parliamentary elections for the lower house of the National Assembly of Afghanistan. Violence has marred campaigning, and the Taliban has threatened to target polling stations during voting, according to this CNN blog post. "The death toll for campaign staff and election workers in the run-up to the vote now stands at 21, according to Tabish Forugh of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission. Another 26 people have been wounded."

Even if Saturday's election is not disrupted by violence, conditions in the country have deteriorated since the last election; optimism is not high for strengthening Afghanistan's democracy. "Security has deteriorated to such an extent that more than 15 percent of the planned polling centers will not be able to open, effectively disenfranchising people in the most troubled areas. Violence has plagued the campaign so far; at least three candidates have been killed in various provinces, along with several election officials." According to Sabrina Saqeb, who at 25 won a parliamentary seat in the last election but is not running again, "I think we will see a weaker parliament after this election. I am not optimistic that it will be strong enough to serve the nation."

Meanwhile, from Iraq comes the troubling news from a Los Angeles Times report that Al Qaeda "is carving out new sanctuaries... in the farmlands south of Baghdad, in the deserts to the west and in the mountains to the east." Suicide bombers and car bombings are becoming more frequent, leading to fears that Al Qaeda is attempting to exploit the current political vacuum as Iraq's central government struggles for legitimacy.

On display at the Imperial War Museum in London is a reminder of past and current violence in Iraq. From artist Jeremy Deller, the piece is the remants of a car hit by a truck bomber in Baghdad on March 5, 2007. "During its time on display, the car will be the focus for a series of open conversations about the conflict in Iraq," said museum officials. Deller said, "It's unusual to see anything from the conflict in Iraq 'in life' so I was interested in being able to show this car to the public."

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