Friday, August 20, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military suffers another death in Iraq, some in the media try to set the story straight about what's taking place in Iraq while others spin like crazy, the US Army's latest suicide statistics, and more.
The Scripps Howard News Service reports, "As the last combat troops leave Iraq, one Kentucky family learnst their son has died there." Christopher Wright of Lewis County, Kentucky is the fallen. Misty Maynard (Ledger Independent) reports he was on his second tour of duty in Iraq and she speaks to the family's pastor John Moore, of Tollesboro Christian Church, "Moore said it had been at least a year since he had seen Christopher Wright. One of the most vivid aspects of Wright, Moore said, was his passion for the military and his hopes to attend jump school and become a Ranger or a Green Beret." Elizabeth Dorsett (WKYT) quotes James King, who works for Joe Cochran (Christopher Wright's father), on the family learning the news, "When the military guys came in, they didn't have to say anything." ICCC's current total for the number of US service members killed in Iraq is 4416. Strangely USF never announced the death.
The war didn't end yesterday. The one good thing about so many pushing the myth that it did is that so many people are weighing in. If you're noted, you were among the best weighing in but that doesn't mean we happen to agree with you in part or in total. Let's start with US Senator Russ Feingold:
"While I applaud President Obama for sticking to his redeployment timetable, more than 50,000 U.S. troops are still serving in harm's way in Iraq. I urge the president to redeploy those remaining troops as promptly and safely as possible so we can reduce the strain on our military and our budget.
"While our departure from Iraq is taking much longer than it should, it does show that setting a timetable for redeployment can help contribute to stability and enable us to focus on combating al Qaeda's global network. Al Qaeda and its affiliates continue to expand in places around the world like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, North Africa and elsewhere. Rather than send more troops to Afghanistan, where there is no military solution, the president should lay out a timetable for ending our military involvement there so we are better able to combat al Qaeda's global network without needlessly risking American lives and spending dollars we don't have."
I'm Matt Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive, with my Progressive Point of View which you can also grab off our website over at Progressive.org. Barack Obama is to be commended for keeping his pledge to pull US combat troops out of Iraq by the end of August and congratulations to the soldiers and the families of the soldiers coming home. But let's remember that 4,415 members of the US military never came home and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in this immoral and illegal war that Bush and Cheney launched for no good reason. And let's also remember that the US still has 56,000 troops in Iraq who may well see combat in the year ahead and by the end of next year, it's not like the American presence will vanish. The State Dep is building new fortresses in Iraq to go along with the massive embassy in Baghdad. It's spending upward of one million dollars on outposts in Erbil, Mosul and Kirkuk and Basra. And instead of soldiers guarding these facilities and the diplomats who work there, the State Department is going to be relying on 7,000 private contractors -- mercenaries by any other name. This is good news for the like of DynCorp and Blackwater, but not for Iraq and not for us. I'm Matt Rothschild and that's how I see it.
I'm disgusted and that's how it is. 'Barack Obama is to be congratulated . . . but that mean nasty State Dept!!!' What? Barack got congratulated (despite the fact that it was not his campaign promise -- or is basic math not a progressive value? -- April 2010 was one campaign pledge and, in Texas in Feb. 2008, he lowered it October 2009). But not held accountable. But not held accountable? Who is over the State Dept, who is over the entire federal government in the United States? That would be the president who would be Barack Obama. It's real cute the way Matthew Rothschild parcel's out praise for Barack (unearned praise, Matt Rothchild) but can't hold him accountable. Now the militarization of diplomacy was Samantha Power's plan -- presented to Barack in 2007. But he signed off on it. He's the one seeing that it's executed. He's the one putting all the national security types -- past and present -- on it. And that's why we're calling it the "militarization of diplomacy." When no one was talking about or writing about it, we called it the "militarization of the State Dept" but this really won't be State Dept led. This will go under the national security and that's why those people -- including the gangbusters for it woman who is so convinced she gets Robert Gates' job if he does step down in 2011 -- are the ones at the meetings and why so many meetings take place without State even being present or in the loop. It's also why the new US Ambassador was selected. (Or are we ignoring his national security background as well?) About the militarization of diplomacy, yesterday, Michele Kelemen (All Things Considered, NPR -- link has audio and text) reported:
Michele Kelemen: Overseeing contractors will be another key challenge, he says. Security contractors will be needed not just at the embassy but also at the other diplomatic outposts that are being opened if diplomats are going to be able to get out of their buildings to do their jobs. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Corbin says there will be two consulates - one in the southern city of Basra and one in Erbil in the Kurdish north. There are also plans for temporary branch offices in Mosul and Kirkuk.
Michael Corbin (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State): These are a three- to five-year presence. And we chose the Kurd-Arab fault line, as we like to call it, it's not what the Iraqis call it. But there are issues in Kirkuk and in Mosul that have not only to do with Arab-Kurd issues but also Iraq's minorities.
Peter Hart: Goodbye Operation Iraqi Freedom, hello Operation New Dawn. The Iraq War is ending, we're told, with TV crews back in Iraq, capturing footage of the final combat troops exiting the country. One might reach for the term Orwellian to describe such events, perhaps because there is no fitting way to convey the "up is down, black is white" sense of what has happened in Iraq and what is happening there now. Our next guest wrote about this for Salon.com under the headline "The Iraq Withdrawal: An Orwellian Success." Hannah Gurman is an assistant professor at New York University's Gallatin School. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Hannah Gurman.
Hannah Gurman: My pleasure.
Peter Hart: Well here's the official story: Violence is down, Iraqis are stepping up, as ABC's Christiane Amanpour put it recently, "The surge, let's face it, has worked." These are basically the indisputable facts in our media discussions about Iraq. In what ways do you think this Iraq narrative might qualify as Orwellian, as you put it?
Hannah Gurman: Well it's really hard to say where to begin. By almost every measure with respect to security, the state of Iraqi politics and maybe most importantly Iraqis to basic resources and the state of Iraq's infrastructure. There are things that the mainstream story just isn't illuminating. In terms of infrastructure, for example, there are still many, many Iraqis who do not have electricity. They have about two to three hours of electricity a day. And the latest Brookings Index shows that there are 30 - 50,000 private generators making up for that gap between the national grid and what people actually need. So that's just one example of the basic situation on the ground that we don't really hear that much about from Obama or from Ambassador Christopher Hill when they are touting the success of the surge narrative.
Peter Hart: It's interesting, those Brookings numbers used to be widely cited in the media when they wanted to cite progress in the Iraq War. You don't hear them cited as often now. Perhaps because the findings are rather dismal.
Hannah Gurman: Yeah and that gets to heart of really what Iraqi citizens see on the ground and they point to the every day situation. So it is interesting that that's one of the things that we're really not hearing very much about in terms of the surge narrative. We're hearing a lot more about the decreases in violence, we're hearing a lot more about the optimism of Iraqi politics and even with respect to their things, there are things to be questioned.
Peter Hart: Speaking of Orwellian, I'm looking at the Washington Post headline the day we record this show, "Operation Iraqi Freedom Ends As Last Combat Soldiers Leave Baghdad." The article [by Ernesto Londono] notes that there might never be an acknowledged end to the Iraq War. The real point seems to be this: US commanders are also stressing that this is no longer America's war to lose. The end it would seem is not about winning then, it's about not losing.
Hannah Gurman: Yeah and it does also point to the strange shift from the concept of victory which used to be the way people thought about America's goals in war to now success so even if we don't win, we still don't lose. There is this prominent word "success" and you see it everywhere in discussions of the Iraq withdrawal -- that we are "successfully" handing over this situation to Iraq.
Peter Hart: Also today, the day we record this show [Thursday], theNew York Times has this piece [by Michael R. Gordon] that's somewhat muddled. It tells us there's going to be this tiny military presence in Iraq. Experts are quoted saying this will be insufficient for the task, we may need to send more troops. At the same time, this presence will exist alongside thousands of private security forces, five massive compounds, massive amounts of State Dept planes and helicopters, there will be private security guards. The Times explains these are "quick reaction forces" to rescue citizens in trouble. And it also tell us that Iraqis object to these forces because they have a history of killing civilians. What are the mechanics of the Iraq occupation in this post-war phase.
Hannah Gurman: Well you heard that today, or Thursday morning Iraqi time, the last combat brigade pulled out of Iraq so now you have by the end of this month, 50,000 troops are going to be in Iraq and they're going to be simply transferred or relabled from "combat battallions" to "advise-and-assist battallions." And so they'll be there training or continuing to train the Iraqi security forces. What they actually do on the ground, I think, is very much up in the air whether and when they will actually be participating in combat, I think, is very much up to debate. Then you have this other story you've been discussing which is the transferring over, in many ways, the transferring over military responsibilities to the civilian personnel in Iraq. And, in essance, it's a shadow army. It's very paradoxical because on the one hand it really raises the responsibility of the civilian presence in Iraq but, on the other hand, it's really a civilian presence that is operating security appartaus in Iraq. And there are many military and even senior civilian officials who believe that that civilian presecne is going to have to be upped or eventually supported by a more conventional military presence. So they really don't know.
Moving over to today's second hour of The Diane Rehm Show today, Diane and her guests David Ignatius (Washington Post), Laura Rozen (Politico) and Thom Shanker (New York Times).
Diane Rehm: Thom Shanker, the last American brigade left Iraq yesterday. Wasn't this earlier than the actual deadline?
Thom Shanker: Well it's very interesting, Diane. We have to be careful of the words we use and the labels we apply. I mean what the American military force in Iraq has been doing for the past six to nine months is very similar to what they'll be doing throughout the rest of this year and 2011. What the military did is they waived their hand and symbolically said 4-2 Stryker brigade from Fort Lewis is the brigade that's leaving and will not be replaced. So that brigade has left Baghdad and crossed the border into Kuwait on its way back to the United States. But there are six brigades left in Iraq, still 56,000 troops whose mission officially changes on September 1st, from combat to advise-and-assist, but that's been going on. In fact we should note the 4-2 Stryker brigade that's gotten so much attention did not lose a single soldier to a combat death during its entire 12 months there. So clearly the mission has been changing. I think it's sort of a case, if we could rephrase the great John Lennon song, it's not exactly peace, but all we are saying is give the non-combat-advise-and-assist mission a chance.
Diane Rehm: What about the contractors who were left behind? What kind of role will they play?
Thom Shanker: They will only have an increasing role. When the American military officially ends its presence under the Status Of Forces Agreement at the end of next year, the State Dept takes over. We've already seen statistics. The State Dept will have to hire up to 7,000 security contractors to protect its 5 hardened sites across the country. The State Dept's looking at a security operations bill of a billion dollars once the American military leaves and, with it, helicopters, armored vehicles, security patrols. I don't think the American people understand the cost and extent of the commitment to sustain whatever progress has been made.
Diane Rehm: Laura Rozen, I don't get that the State Dept is going to be taking over the security measures.
Laura Rozen: Well that's actually the point the State Dept and Defense officials have been trying to make this past week is that, you know, in the effort to normalize the US-bilateral relationship with Iraq, the State Dept will be taking the lead from the Pentagon in managing US relations with Iraq. And they've actually been Defense Dept and State Dept officials going together to Congress to try to ask for the kind of appropriations Thom is talking about. And the State appropriaters in Congress just aren't used to these 5, 6, 7 billion dollar appropriations requests from the State Dept. You know, they spent monthly, for the Pentagon in Iraq. So the Pentagon and the State Dept have been quite frustrated. They had to downsize a bit the US diplomatic presence that will be in Iraq over the next several years to five total diplomatic offics.
Diane Rehm: David Ignatius, I'm totally confused by this.
David Ignatius: Well welcome to Iraq. You shouldn't imply that the State Dept is going to have responsibility for security. It won't. The contractors who will be coming in, many of them will be doing force-protection to protect these State Dept officers. They're not a military force. They need in today's Iraq people to travel with and keep them safe. The problem is that Iraq is kind of now really excited about getting its sovereignty. Excited but not all is efficacious in dealing with it. And the issue of contractors is a very, very prickly one for the Iraqis. We've had incidents in which Blackwater people shot people up in downtown Baghdad. So it's a real problem. The State Dept is going to need people to protect them but the people doing the protecting may be very unpopular in Iraq.
Diane Rehm: Thom Shanker, what about training Iraqi soldiers? Just before the brigade pulled out, you had Iraqi recruits killed in a suicide bombing.
Thom Shanker: That's exactly right, Diane. Even though the overall violence levels are far, far below what they were at the worst of 2006, the insurgents and the militants are still capable of spectacular attacks. What's happening between September 1st when the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the invasion war plan, becomes Operation New Dawn, anadvise-andd assist mission for the Americans, 50,000 American military personnel that stay through the end of next year are doing exactly what you said, Diane. They'll be training, advising, trying to make certain if they can that the Iraqi security forces can do it all once they leave at the end of 2011 unless, unless, the Iraqis ask for a continued American presence.
Diane Rehm: David.
David Ignatius: Diane, I think when we're talking about Iraq, we ought to just know the really sad point from the standpoint of view which is as the designated withdrawal of the last combat brigade happens, Iraq doesn't have a government yet. Five months after the elections, if you want to put any kind of positive spin on this terrible, painful experience in Iraq it's that the US brought democratic elections, Iraq has elected a Parliament but that Parliament is frozen. In talking with an Iraqi friend of mine, who's part of the government, yesterday, he said they just don't see any way forward right now. The administration here in Washington is working very hard to try to broker a deal between Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya faction -- he's a former prime minister -- and the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and his State Of Law faction that would add a new position that presumably would be given to Allawi where he would run a national security council and have some security -- It's a kind of jury-rigged system for a country that can't make the positions its got already work in a functional manner, the idea of adding a whole new layer, strikes some people as crazy. But that's the current administration plan for breaking the logjam.
Diane Rehm: And let us not forget that the US death toll -- the US death toll has been 4415 soldiers-- men, women. And that does not even touch the Iraqi civilians who've been killed in the process.
Thom Shanker: That's exactly right to weave that point and the smart point that David just made. I was having coffee with some smart army colonels yesterday at the Pentagon. Officers who have had multiple tours in Iraq. They have made peace with the sacrfice of their colleagues and comrades because they are soldiers, they are patriots. They've made peace with the initial mission for the invasion: Weapons of Mass Destruction proving false. They've made peace with the under-resourcing of the war. But as the last combat troop leaves, as the 50,000 remaining advise-and-assist, what really troubles smart military officers is: Will the Iraqis take advantage of the great sacrifice of American blood and treasury that's made this possible? And as David so correctly said, that's the question mark today.
I called out Matthew Rothschild, so we'll note of the above exchange a few points. First off, Diane noted the US death toll and that was good. That's one of the things she does best. However, she then went into civilians. Civilians? Iraqis. Iraqis. No matter what you label them, they live in their own country. This nonsense of a US death count but only an Iraqi civilian matters? Do we think the US military sent civilians into Iraq with guns? No, they sent a fighting force into a foreign country. Iraqis who fought back an invasion and continue to fight it are defending their country. And the history of Iraq will decide whether they are heroes or scoundrels. But what they are right now is Iraqis and their deaths need to be counted regardless of whether they are civilian or 'insurgent,' regardless of whether they are civilian or military. In fact, there's something really disgusting about the US trumpeting its own military death toll but repeatedly the White House (under Bush and under Barack) spins and the press runs with this idea that only Iraqi civilians deaths matter. We count the US dead and we take that seriously -- the US military dead. Why are Iraqi soldiers and police officers less important? They're not. Again, I do not subscribe to these classifications which I find insulting (I do not believe Diane was trying to be insulting and this didn't originate with her) to the suffering of the Iraqi people.
The suffering of the Iraqi people. This 'great gift' the US gave ("under false pretenses" as a listener e-mailed)? It's really not a great gift. You may show up at Sue's house with a juicer. But Sue has a juicer already that she doesn't use and doesn't want. You can go all over town telling people you gave Sue a great gift. Actually, Sue, the one who received it, will determine whether it's a great gift or not. She's the one who will use it (or toss it). The Iraqi people are not all in agreement on what the US 'gave.' There feelings -- little explored in the press -- need to be taken into account. I could go on and on but I'll leave it at that. As noted, a listener brought up objections. Thom Shanker responded but it is not his place -- does he not get this -- to hail what has happened in Iraq as "a truly historic opportunity". Iraq may or may not want democracy. That's why it hasn't taken root, pay attention, they haven't been allowed to decide. The exiles have ruled over them, put in place by the US government. It is not for Thom Shanker, an American citizen, to decide that what was done in Iraq is "a truly historic opportunity" for the Iraqis. The Iraqis -- who are not being asked or reported on -- are the ones who will decide whether the alleged 'gift' is a good one or a bad one. It's their country. Do we not get that? Democracy is self-determination. They could determine tomorrow they want a dictator. That would be a democratic move in making that decision if that's the choice they wanted to make. It is not on the US to decide for the Iraqis. Thom Shanker is a smart person and an often gifted reporter so it is very maddening that the objectivity that is such a hallmark of his reporting is out the window when he's talking about Iraq and its future -- its future, not his. "I think we can all agree that democracy is better than dictatorship." Who is "we"? Americans? Yes, I suppose most Americans, having grown up in a democracy, are comfortable with it. But democracy is not a one-size fits all nor, in fact, is it pret-a-porter. It is not off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all. Democracy is a garmet that fits you best because it has been designed to your needs and wants. Democracy requires input of the governed and the governed in Iraq are the voices no one is hearing from and the ones Shanker seems unaware of. And, again, he's smart and often a gifted reporter. But democracy cannot be grafted it has to come from the people -- continued democracy stands no chance -- in any country, even the US -- without the consent of the people. As Jeremy R. Hammond notes a Foreign Policy Journal:
This view of "Many Iraqis" is offered a voice. The view of the majority, as indicated by public opinion surveys, however, is excluded. Back in December 2007, for instance (and there's little reason to think Iraqis' views have since reversed), the Post reported that "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S.military last month." The focus group's report stated that most Iraqis "would describe the negative elements of life in Iraq beginning with the 'U.S. occupation' in March 2003".
Last night on The NewsHour (PBS -- link has text, video and audio), Judy Woodruff spoke to Margaret Warner (Warner was reporting from Iraq). On violence, Warner noted the uptick and the concerns including: "And we went to see the sheik who is essentially the city council chairman.And I asked him the question you just asked me.And he said, you know, we really had a good handle on this.In 2008, he said, this was one of the safest cities in Anbar.And, in 2009, it was in good shape. But he said, in the last two-and-a-half months, he said that security is being breached, and they have had IED attacks.They have had attacks on police force members.He suspects some members of the police force of being involved." Let's move over to Kenneth J. Theisen's "A Combat Brigade Leaves; U.S. War of Terror Against Iraq Continues" (World Can't Wait):
The country is divided by sectarianism. Months after the election, Iraq's politicians can not agree on a government that will collaborate with the U.S. occupiers. Militias still function as independent military forces and are run by warlord politicians. Iran still controls or influences many of the various political factions that exist in the country, and that along with other disputes and contention with the U.S. imperialists, could lead to war between the U.S. and Iran. (Admiral Mike Mullen, one of the top U.S. military leaders, recently stressed that the military options are still on the table in regard to Iran.) The bottom line is that Thursday's withdrawal of the "combat" brigade is not a "historic moment." It is just one more piece of propaganda and one more step in the continuing U.S. war of terror. In addition to the tens of thousands of troops still in Iraq, tens of thousands of others are nearby either in other Middle East bases or in the waters near Iraq on nuclear task forces. If the U.S. needs to do so it can rapidly reintroduce combat forces within days.
Katie Couric: Having been in Iraq with you, I have to ask you now that the combat troops are leaving Iraq, is this the right time? I mean you have an uptick in violence -- 61 recruits were killed -- lots wounded. No clearly formed government. The head of Iraqi military says it won't be until 2020 until they can really provide security for the country. Is this a success?
Gen David Petraeus: Well, first of all we are not leaving. There are 50,000 U.S. troops that are remaining in Iraq albeit in a support role rather than in a -- a leading combat role. But that's an enormous capability.
"For me there are two unanswered questions," he added. "One, for the United States, where are we taking this; we're supposed to be drawing down all of our troops come 2011. I think that question is going be up in the air depending on what happening on the ground in Iraq."
"Secondly, I've got a question as to how the president and this administration will portray Iraq and our policy in Iraq," Zarate said. "The President is in a tough position. He didn't like the war, he opposed it, he talked about withdrawing but he's the American president, how does he portray what it was that we sacrificed and did in Iraq at the end of the day."
Meanwhile there is the political stalemate. Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) goes to Brooking Institution voices for feedback and Ken Pollack states of the militarization of diplomacy, "What the State Department is being asked to do is not in their DNA" and "Michael O'Hanlon, a military affairs scholar also at Brookings in Washington, says he actually sees three transitions going on in Iraq, making for a particularly difficult moment in the country. In addition to the US military-to-civilian shift and the Iraqi stalemate over forming a new government, he says the top tier of US leadership in Iraq has changed all at once." Rebekah Mintzer (Xinhua) speaks to NYU professor Patricia DeGennaro, "DeGennaro said she sees the current lack of a national government as 'hurting the country as a whole in the long run,' but does not believe that recent events will change the U.S. established timetable for withdrawal. She stressed that the United States is maintaining some troops in Iraq until the end of 2011 in order to continue to train Iraqis to deal with insurgent attacks and other violent incidents."
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 12 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted.
Voted? Reuters reports that the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission had a death -- an employee was discovered dead from gunshots, his corpse hidden in a Baghdad car and they note a Baghdad roadside bombing killed 2 people (six more injured).
Vietnam was not judged a 'success' or 'good thing' or any such during the final years of war or immediately after. What happened? Jane Fonda explained explained in the amazing documentary Sir! No Sir!, "You know, people say, 'Well you keep going back, why are you going back to Vietnam?' We keep going back to Vietnam because, I'll tell you what, the other side does. They're always going back. And they have to go back -- the Hawks, you know, the patriarchs. They have to go back because, and they have to revise the going back, because they can't allow us to know what the back there really was."
And that is how revisionary history works. A people are in agreement largely but a faction continues to pollute the public square with distortions and misinformation. It's how we end up with a pathetic Barack Obama repeatedly distorting that time period -- please note, a time period that he loves to whine "I was only 8 years old!" about when asked to explain his one-time friendship with Bill Ayers (Bill was drop-kicked under the bus) but he wants to lie repeatedly about Vietnam. And he gets away with it because people don't want to go back. So he's lied about veterans being physically spit on as they returned to the US, he's lied about them being shunned by the public (the government shunned them, the public never did -- whether they were pro-war, anti-war, or apolitical).
It's really something to see and amazing to watch people fail to call him out. Even George W. Bush pulling this nonsense was considered newsworthy. August 22, 2007, Bully Boy Bush spoke to the VFW and, as Jim Rutenberg, Sheryl Gay Stolber, Mark Mazzetti, Damien Cave and Eric Schmitt (New York Times) observed: "With his comments Mr. Bush was doing something few major politicians of either party have done in a generation: rearguing a conflict that ended more than three decades ago but has remained an emotional touch point." As Jane said, "We keep going back to Vietnam because, I'll tell you what, the other side does. They're always going back. And they have to go back -- the Hawks, you know, the patriarchs. They have to go back because, and they have to revise the going back, because they can't allow us to know what the back there really was."
It's probably not going to be different with the Iraq War. And that may surprise you if you didn't live through the Vietnam period. How could it ever change? A number of reasons but mainly because the War Hawks will invent a new hypothesis, test it out, if it has some form of acceptance, they will begin selling it repeatedly. They will sell many such claims, often all in contradiction with one another, muddying the water, confusing the facts and, in less than ten years after the illegal war ends (it hasn't ended yet), you'll have a large number of people unaware how massive opposition to the Iraq War was.
The Associated Press and GfK Roper Public Affairs published a [PDF format warning] poll today. 1,007 respondents, surveyed from August 11th through 16th, with a +/- 4.5% percent margine of error. 31% "favor" the Iraq War, 65% "oppose" the Iraq War. 3% need to be called in a few years because they're not sure how they feel. The respondents identified themselves most often as "conservative" (41%), second highest self-designation was "moderate" (33%) and "liberal" followed that (25%). (2% aren't sure what they are.) Those numbers will not change significantly . . . for those who lived through it. That's true of the Vietnam era as well. The War Hawks can't trick the ones who lived through it. But that's not what they're about. They're about tricking future generations, they're about lying and rewriting history. Because the lessons and Vietnam and Iraq are very similar: Want to go war, then you better lie to the people.
That's not the message the War Hawks want passed around and imparted to future generations. So they try to hide behind service members and act as if they're speaking on their behalf when all they're doing is attempting to free the government to start more wars based on lies, to trick and deceive the American people and to send more people (on all sides) into early graves.
If you're reading this in 2010, our numbers will stay the same. We're not the target for the revisionary history. It's the future generations that are the targets. If Vietnam and Iraq can't be revised into 'good wars,' if the facts can't be left out, then generations can grow up knowing that their government has lied in the past and, patterns hold, will lie again in the future. Future generations will know to strongly question assertions made by elected officials allegedly acting on behalf of the American people's best interests. And that's what War Hawks, and their strong streak of authoritarianism, can't tolerate. For more on current feelings about the Iraq War, see The Takeaway's listener feedback page.
The Army released suicide data today for the month of July. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 12 potential suicides: three were confirmed as suicides, and nine remain under investigation. For June, the Army reported 21 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, 10 have been confirmed as suicides, and 11 remain under investigation.
During July 2010, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were 15 potential suicides. For June, among that same group, there were 11 suicides. Of those, five were confirmed as suicides and six are pending determination of the manner of death.
"Suicide prevention is much more than thwarting that last final act of desperation. It is increasing awareness and education in order to preclude members of the Army family from ever getting to the point where suicide might be considered an alternative to asking for help," said Col. Chris Philbrick, director, Army Suicide Prevention Task Force.
"The Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report released last month is the result of a 15-month effort to better understand high-risk behavior and suicides in the Army. The report is intended to inform and educate on the importance of recognizing and reducing high-risk behavior related to suicide and accidental death, and reducing the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health treatment," Philbrick said.
Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact Military OneSource or the Defense Center of Excellence (DCoE) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Outreach Center. Trained consultants are available from both organizations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
The Military OneSource toll-free number for those residing in the continental United States is 1-800-342-9647; their Web site address is http://www.militaryonesource.com. Overseas personnel should refer to the Military OneSource Web site for dialing instructions for their specific location.
Remember that the military's suicide hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. And the National US Suicide Hotline (for anyone in the US not just those serving or veterans but veterans and those serving who are not comfortable for whatever reason with calling the military's suicide hotline can use this as well) is 1-800-448-3000.
The Blowout Scott Pelley investigates the explosion that killed 11, causing the oil leak in the waters off of Louisiana, and speaks to one of the oil rig platform crew survivors who was in a position to know what caused the disaster and how it could have been prevented. | Watch Video
The Russian Is Coming Mikhail Prokhorov, perhaps Russia's richest man, discusses his purchase of the N.J. Nets basketball team, his vast wealth and the surprisingly unusual way he made most of his money in his first American television interview. Steve Kroft reports. | Watch Video
With Terry Gross back this week,she's emphasized women. True,she's needed to do that in order to play catch up. I don't want to be a sap but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt through the rest of this month if she continues to attempt to even out Fresh Air. (While she was on vacation, we heard from men, men and more men.)
I'll play the sap and be wrong but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Yesterday she spoke with a female poet. She's got a woman as a guest tonight. I'll write about that tomorrow.
Now we need to talk Iraq.
I will give Barack (I almost typed "Bush," they are so very much alike) and the media no benefit of the doubt.
The Iraq War has not ended, has not ended. I'm so sick of the garbage that they provide us with and then they wonder why Americans can be uninformed on some topics?
Let me applaud Katie Couric because her broadcast actually informed. (I caught NBC and it didn't inform me. I asked C.I. in the roundtable we did tonight for the gina & krista round-robin and she said to go check out CBS.) This is from Katie's report that aired tonight:
"I mean you have an uptick in violence - 61 recruits were killed - lots wounded. There's no clearly formed government. The head of Iraqi military says it won't be until 2020 until they can really provide security for the country. Is this a success?"
"Well, first of all we are not leaving," Gen. Petraeus replied. "There are 50,000 U.S. troops that are remaining in Iraq albeit in a support role rather than a leading combat role. But that's an enormous capability."
Good for Katie, she asked a good question. Good for David, he gave some realities in his answer.
I'm not a David Petraeus groupie but good for him. (I am a fan of Katie Couric's but I caught some of Tuesday's bad show and didn't realize Katie was coming back this week -- Erica Hall anchored the bad broadcast I watched.)
The war has not ended but people are so eager for it to that they will no doubt swallow the latest lies so many in the media appear determined to repeat. Please check out Elaine's "Palin (classy), Emily's List (hypocrite)" from last night. We all love it. C.I. plans to highlight it tomorrow.
John Hockenberry: When we say noncombat troops -- it almost sounds like an oxymoron -- but noncombat troops, is that a semantic distinction or is there something real in that term.
Michael R. Gordon: Well it's not even accurate. I think that what happened yesterday was largely symbolic and to some extent hyped by the electronic media. The uh -- What's happening is there are combat troops remaining in Iraq. The 50,000 troops include six brigades which are essentially combat brigades. But these combat brigades have been renamed assist-and-advise brigades and they've been given a task of helping to train the Iraqi army but that doesn't mean they're not made up of combat troops. They are. And in addition, the US is still helping the Iraqi special forces carry out counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaeda operatives and all of that and that fits my definition of "combat."
Before we get to that, we're again dropping back to Monday's State Dept press briefing by the "Near Eastern and North African Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq Michael Corbin and Defense Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Affairs Colin Kahl." So that's US State Dept and DoD both represented. We've covered it repeatedly and probably will again in the future. So the two were explaining the militarization of diplomacy in Iraq. Here's Corbin:
We're going to have two consulates in Iraq, and the Council of Ministers recently signed off on having two consulates -- one in Basra and one in the north, in Erbil. And these consulates provide a recognized important diplomatic platform for all the types of programs that we want to do now and that we'll want to do in the future. And consulates around the world used to be a very key element of our diplomatic presence. We'll have two of those consulates. And obviously, one is in the Kurdish region in the north and the other is in Basra, which has enormous economic importance as the -- being close to Umm Qasr, the only -- Iraq's only port, being close to the new oil fields, the ones that have been exposed in the latest oil bid rounds. So we're going to have different interests in these consulates, but they serve as platforms for us to apply all the tools of a diplomatic presence.
And, in case you're wondering, in Baghdad -- the Green Zone section -- the US Embassy will remain. So three buildings -- Nope. Citing "this transition from the military to civilians" as the reason more is needed, he explained their would be "embassy branch offices" "in Kirkuk and in Mosul . . . An embassy branch office is a diplomatic termthat is recognized as a way diplomats can have presence, but these are going to be temporary presences, as Deputy Secretary Lew has explained. These are a three to five-year presence . . ." If you're trying to calculate, he's referring to 2011 (or 2012) so add three and five years to that.
Asked about the air space and Iraq needing the US to continue to provide protection for the air space, Kahl responded, "You're right about the air sovereignty, what the U.S. military calls the air sovereignty gap. For all the right reasons, we've focused on building Iraq's ground forces to provide for internal security and be able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. We've also made a lot of progress in building up their air force, but largely kind of the foundation for a capable force, as opposed to one that can fully exercise and enforce Iraq's air sovereignty. We can expect that the Iraqis will have requirements for air sovereignty that extend beyond 2011, which is one of the reasons they've expressed interest in purchasing a multi-role fighter to provide for their own security. All their neighbors have it, et cetera." Asked to elaborate on "provide assistance," Kahl responded, " You're right about the air sovereignty, what the U.S. military calls the air sovereignty gap. For all the right reasons, we've focused on building Iraq's ground forces to provide for internal security and be able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. We've also made a lot of progress in building up their air force, but largely kind of the foundation for a capable force, as opposed to one that can fully exercise and enforce Iraq's air sovereignty. We can expect that the Iraqis will have requirements for air sovereignty that extend beyond 2011, which is one of the reasons they've expressed interest in purchasing a multi-role fighter to provide for their own security. All their neighbors have it, et cetera."
With that background, today Michael R. Gordon reports on the current realities.Speaking to Ryan Crocker -- the former US Ambassador to Iraq -- Gordon is informed that the US needs to be flexible and that a request to extend the SOFA would be in the US' "strategic interest." From Gordon's article:
With the Obama administration in campaign mode for the coming midterm elections and Iraqi politicians yet to form a government, the question of what future military presence might be needed has been all but banished from public discussion. "The administration does not want to touch this question right now," said one administration official involved in Iraq issues, adding that military officers had suggested that 5,000 to 10,000 troops might be needed. "It runs counter to their political argument that we are getting out of these messy places," the official, speaking only on condition of anonymity, added. "And it would be quite counterproductive to talk this way in front of the Iraqis. If the Iraqis want us, they should be the demandeur."
This morning, Ross Colvin (Reuters) provided an analysis on the possibility that US would withdraw in 2011 and notes various public statements but here's the key passage:
The U.S.-Iraq military pact that came into force in 2009 provides the legal basis for U.S. troops to be in Iraq. Under the agreement, all U.S. troops must be out by 2012. But U.S. negotiators say that even as the pact was being negotiated, it was considered likely it would be quietly revised later to allow a longer-term, although much smaller, force to remain.
John Hockenberry: First of all, do you see no US military presence in Iraq for America after 2011, is that possible?
Michael R. Gordon: I think it's unlikely. And in the view of a lot of Iraqis and people like Ambassador Ryan Crocker -- who served as abassador in Iraq from 2007 to 2009 -- undesirable. The Bush administration signed an agreement to get all troops out by the end of 2011. The Obama administration is -- which is in a campaign mode now as it approaches the midterm elections, has promised to honor that but, really, there are going to be a lot of tasks that remain. For example, Iraq will have no air force. Well who's going to patrol the Iraqi skies? It almost certainly will be the United States. Iraq is buying M1 tanks and artillery. Well who's going to help them field it and learn how to operate it? It's almost certainly going to be the United States. al Qaeda militants and Iranian-backed militias are going to remain in Iraq in some measure. They've been attacking US forces over the last several months. Certainly, it seems very likely that there will be some sort of US role in advising or helping Iraqi special operation forces to go after them. And there's going to be a very large civilian role. There's going to be 2,400 odd civilians -- State Dept and other officials carrying out functions not only in Baghdad but in Kirkuk and Mosul, trying to tamp down Kurdish-Arab tensions. And they're going to rely, under current plans, on private security contractors. It's kind of ironic that the Obama administraion is going to be preside over a more than doubling of private security contractors in Iraq, but that's the current plan. If we negotiatea new agreement with Iraq to keep some US forces there, maybe that burden will be reduced somewhat.
As Gordon notes, electronic media is making a big deal about the departure of combat brigades. Setting aside the theatrics of renaming, did the last US 'combat' brigade pull out of Iraq as everyone's insisting? Apparently not. Xinhua reports, "An U.S. official from the Defense Ministry has denied that the U.S. combat troops have completed withdrawal from Iraq, the official Iraqia television reported Thursday. 'What happened was a reorganization for these troops as some 4,000 soldiers had been pulled out and the rest of the combat troops (will leave) at the end of this month,' Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was quoted as saying. His comments came after some U.S. media said earlier that the last brigade from the combat troops has left Iraq Thursday morning two weeks before the deadline of Aug. 31." Calling it the "second fake end to Iraq War," Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) observes:
Officials have been pretty straightforward about what really happened, not that it has been picked up by the media, which has preferred the more pleasant narrative of a decisive military victory. Instead, the US simply "redefined" the vast majority of its combat troops as "transitional troops," then removed a brigade that they didn't relabel, so they could claim that was the "last one." Even this comes with the assumption that the State Department, and a new army of contractors, will take over for years after the military operations end, assuming they ever do.
And it worked, at least for now. All is right with the world and the war is over, at least so far as anyone could tell from the TV news shows.
And James Denselow (at Huffington Post) notes, "As US combat units pulled back into Kuwait today a single soldiers was spotted shouting 'we won, we won'. What has been won is perhaps the narrative which states that despite regular bloodletting, Iraq is a success that the US can depart from with honor." northsum32 (All Voices) explains, "To move around Iraq without United States troops, the State Department plans to acquire 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs, from the Pentagon; expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320; and create a mini-air fleet by buying three plans to add to its lone aircraft. Its helicopter fleet, which will be piloted by contractors, will grow to 29 choppers from 17. There are to be 6 to 7 thousand private security contractors. This is bound to cause conflict with the Iraqi government which has been very critical of private security firms." For more on that topic, refer to Michele Kelemen's report for All Things Considered (NPR).
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 12 days. Phil Sands (National Newspaper) notes that if the stalemate continues through September 8th, it will then be a half a year since Iraqis voted. Today the New York Times' Anthony Shadid spoke with Steve Inskeep about the stalemate for NPR's Morning Edition:
Mr. SHADID: Well I think, Steve there's a real question here about power and the question of power. How powerful is the prime minister? How powerful is the cabinet? Basically what system is going to arise here that's going to govern this country? Those questions are unanswered. They're at the core of the negotiations. There's a lot of disputes on where to go and how to get there. But I think there's even a deeper question here, and I think this is whats alarming to a lot people who have spent a lot of time here, and that's the almost utter disenchantment among the public for the political elite. There's a real divorce here, between governed and governors, between ruler and ruled. And that, I think, is one of the more unpredictable factors we see going on right now.
INSKEEP: In a few seconds - are people thinking again, as they were a few years ago, about the country falling apart?
Mr. SHADID: You know, there's a lot of worry that the longer this stalemate goes on, the worse it's going to get.
Today David Ignatius (Washington Post) observes, "It's now five months after the March elections that gave a narrow victory to former prime minister Ayad Allawi over incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. The Shiite parties that were once allied with Maliki have mostly abandoned him, yet he hangs on as though he were prime minister for life, Arab-style. Meanwhile, the bombs keep going off in Baghdad." And the violence continued today with at least 8 reported deaths and seven reported wounded.
Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports a Ramadi roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers and a Falluja sticky bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer. Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two people and three Mosul roadside bombings which injured four police officers.
Reuters notes a Kirkuk attack on "the headquarters of the Kurdish intelligence services" in which 1 assailant was shot dead (and injured another), 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Kirkuk, 1 civilian shot dead in Mosul and 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul.
Turning to England where Tony Blair's latest 'antics' have caused further uproar. The War Hawk and former prime minister is publishing his autobiography -- not titled, despite rumors, What I Did For Love and George W. Bush -- and apparently hoping for some good press, he decided he would donate the profits from the book for a military rehabilitation facility. The editorial board of the Independent of London notes the current political stalemate in Iraq, the rise in violence and concludes, "As the impassioned response to Mr Blair's donation has shown, however, this war remains as fresh in the memory -- and almost as divisive as it was when it began. That there will now be a positive aspect to Mr Blair's legacy, and one that implicitly recognises the human cost of his fateful decision, deserves to be recognised. But it cannot erase, nor will it compensate for, the irreversible damage that has been done." At The Economist blog Britain Blightly, J.G. blogs this thought, "The alternative criticism, that the donation is just a cynical PR stunt, seems less wilfully deluded. But it still strikes me as mistaken. Mr Blair is portrayed as both a shallow, image-conscious salesman and as a messianic ideologue driven by stupidly fixed convictions. He cannot be both." Yes, he can. The term would be "dichotomy." I thought the British were supposed to be good with the English language. Not to mention good at drama since dichotomy's lend themselves so well to portraits of tragic figures. At England's Stop The War, we'll note this from Robin Beste's "All Neptune's oceans could not wash the blood from Blair's hands:"
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hands? asks the mass murderer Macbeth in Shakespeare's play.
Tony Blair clearly thinks that by donating the millions he is being paid for his memoirs to the British Legion he will wash his hands clean of the hundreds of thousands of civilians and the 179 British soldiers killed as a result of war in Iraq.
It won't stop Peter Brierley, whose son was killed in Iraq, who says his aim is still; "that one day we will see Tony Blair in court for the crimes he committed. Peter famously refused to shake Blair's hand at a memorial service for soldiers who died in Iraq, saying, "Don't you dare. "You have my son's blood on your hands."
Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son, Fusilier Gordon Gentle, was killed in Basra in 2004, said she was pleased injured troops would benefit but said it would not change the way she felt about Blair. "It is OK doing this now but it was decisions Blair made when he was prime minister that got us into this situation. I still hold him responsible for the death of my son."
The money Blair is donating from his memoirs will be welcome for those soldiers it helps who have been seriously injured in Britain's wars.
But no amount of money can buy Blair innocence or forgiveness for the series of lies he told against the best legal advice which told him the war was illegal under international law, or for his defiance of the vast majority of people in Britain, who protested in unprecedented numbers to tell Blair that his warmongering was "not in our name".
I happen to believe that the wars and everything else became Obama's problems on January 20, 2009, but in reading comments about today's carnage on that bastion of centrism, the Huffington Post -- many people either believe that the Afghanistan occupation just became Obama's War today, or that (in the case of at least one commenter) -- Obama was forced to send more troops, and when one sends more troops, more of them will die. The matter-of-fact callousness of this remark stung like a hornet to me, and I bet the mothers of numbers 1227, 1228, and 1229 did not feel so cavalier when the Grim Reapers in dress khakis knocked on their doors today. As little as we hear about U.S. troops, as is our custom here in the Empire, the tragic slaughter of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan doesn't even deserve a blip on our radar screens. I watched three hours of MSDNC(MSNBC) tonight and the manipulative gyrations to find out how many ways that they could talk about the "distraction" of the "mosque" at ground zero without talking about the one-million plus Arabs (Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc) that the psychopathic U.S. response to September 11, 2001 has killed, was pathetic and frustrating to watch. There has been a bumper sticker saying for years that goes: "What if they gave a war and no one showed up?" Well, "they," the ones that give the wars are not going to stop. "They""have too much at stake to give up the cash cow of wars for Imperial Profit, Power, and Expansion. "They" use the toady media to whip up nationalistic and patriotic fervor to get our kids to be thrown together with the victims in a meat grinder of destruction and we just sit here and allow them to do it.
Terry Gross must be in a mad scramble after her month of men to add a few women to the guest list. Yesterday featured another female guest (that's two) and she spoke on Fresh Air about her son who had deployed to Iraq and other related issues including her new book Minefields of the Heart.
MARGARET WARNER: Gwen, we went to the site of the bombing late in the day. The police had cordoned off the whole area and weren't letting media in. This area is really kind of across and catty-cornered from the Green Zone and up the Tigris River.And we were able to approach it late. We got through by talking to the army officers there. And what we saw was a very huge square which had been an open-air market, but this is where we -- we spoke to one of the police officers who had been at a checkpoint nearby and had witnessed it. He said that people overnight had been waiting, camping there, young men, so that they could be first in line at this army recruiting station in the morning. All we could see was a gigantic pool of human blood still, I would say seven feet wide, and a huge pile of shoes.
GWEN IFILL: Margaret, do you have any sense of who was responsible for this or why this location?
MARGARET WARNER: You would have to call this still the heart of Baghdad. There are a lot of government ministries and government buildings in this area. And whoever did it clearly is trying to send a signal that, as the government prepares to really take over even greater security responsibilities from the Americans, that they aren't up to the task. So, whether it's al-Qaida, which is what the Iraqi military is saying officially, or whether it's what quite a few people in the crowd -- they suspect the hand of either the Iranians, Iranian intelligence, the Syrians -- no one is quite sure, but there is just no doubt that the -- that various insurgencies and terrorist groups out there still have the power to strike, if not in big coordinated attacks, as they used to, in still fairly spectacular ones with high symbolic value.
GWEN IFILL: With this violence, this uptick in violence we're seeing, how insecure are people feeling about this upcoming pullout or handover or whatever you want to call it?
MARGARET WARNER: They sound insecure when they speak to me about it, Gwen. I have only been here, what, 36 hours. But, on the one hand, many are welcoming the fact that Americans are drawing down further. And they're well aware that they haven't seen American troops, for example, patrolling in Baghdad streets for over a year now. Americans pulled out from the cities a year ago. But everybody knew that the cavalry was very nearby and it was very big, I mean, 150,000, 160,000 U.S. troops at its peak. By September 1, that's down to 50,000, which is about 20,000 fighting forces. And the Iraqi people know this. And, so, what I have heard from a lot of people is pride in their armed forces, but also trepidation that they may not be able to handle it and that various groups are going to try to take advantage of this transition to step up their level of attacks.
GWEN IFILL: So, is there a pretty clear understanding or suspicion that there's a connection between this violence and this upcoming change in ownership of this war?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes, Gwen. And, also, people here are making the connection between the violence and the lack of a new government here. As you know, elections were held five months ago. The two top vote-getting parties and other parties have still not been able to come up with a coalition or power-sharing arrangement. And what I have heard from people, shop people, shoppers, mothers, young mothers that we have spoken to today, and in fact a couple of young army officers whom I spoke to off-camera, is that this lack of a government is also another invitation to those who would try to exploit the still considerable weakness of this Iraqi state that is trying to stand itself up. So, I would say both the -- the political transition that has not yet been completed, as well as the military one, is -- is making people nervous here.
So there you go. Margaret Warner is in Iraq for further reports. This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Wednesday, August 18, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, judges remain targeted, the political stalemate continues, the refugee crisis continues, tomorrow is World Humanitarian Day, and more.
CNN reports that James Jeffrey "presented his diplomatic credentials" today in Baghdad. He is the new US Ambassador to Iraq. (Most recently, he was the US Ambassador to Turkey.) Arthur MacMillan (AFP) quotes him stating, "It is a great honour for me to return to Iraq. I look forward to renewing old frienships, strengthening our ties with Iraqi leaders and deepening our civilian egnagement for the long term throughout this historic land." Return? MacMillan notes that June 2004 through June 2005 saw Jeffrey serve "as deputy chief of mission and then charge d'affaires" in Iraq. It's also notes he was "deputay national security adviser" under Bully Boy Bush. NSA. Pay attention to that term if you want to know where US involvement in Iraq is headed.
Jeffrey is the new Ambassador to Iraq. The old US Ambassador to Iraq sat back and did nothing as Iraq entered into a poltical stalemate. Atul Aneja (Hindu) observes, "Analysts point out that the significant spurt in Iraq violence in recent months can in large measure be attributed to the political vacuum after the March parliamentary elections."March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board notes, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's now 5 months and 11 days. Last night, Flavia Krause-Jackson and Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reported on the old ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, and his ludicrous farewell conference. As they note, he pinned his hopes on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stepping in to end the political stalemate. Here's Hill talking about al-Sistani:
It's really hard to say. I mean, we know that he's following this issue on a daily basis. He obviously has a lot of wisdom about the political process. He knows it very well. He knows the players very well. All the players have gone and seen him. They're in constant communication with him. So I suspect that any role he can play, he's playing. And I suspect that he is playing it in the best way he can to ensure that there's a positive outcome here. He believes -- and everybody agrees there, just about everybody agrees -- that when the government is finally formed, you will see Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds in that government together. You will see a government that's very much balanced. When you look at the offers made to Iraqiya, they have been offered -- Iraqiya, as a party that -- where most of the Sunnis voted, you will see substantial offers of important positions there. So I think everyone understands the need to bring all, as they say in Iraq, components -- that is Kurds, Sunnis, and Shia -- together. And I think Sistani has made very clear his view on that and how he is conveying that view is probably best less to him -- left to him.
Not addressed in the press briefing was the rumors that the US government (via Jeffrey Feltman) has threatened the Iraqi officials with the declaration of a State of Emergency is the stalemate is not ended -- maybe that's an example of the "advise-and-assist role" Hill was blabbering away about.
"And that's why we monitor very closely this issue of Sons of Iraq and making sure that payments are being received and issues like that," Hill maintained in the press conference and no one challenged him on that -- even though the checks aren't coming and that's one of the reasons al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is allegedly trying to recruit from Sahwa.
Today Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports on the Freedom City in Najaf, which the Mahdi Army vows they will fill up as they attack US forces should US forces not leave on December 31, 2011. That's the date in the Status Of Forces Agreement. Hill was asked about the treaty yesterday and replied:
Now, that overall Status of Forces Agreement extends till December 31st, 2011. That is the basis on which we have any forces in Iraq, and I think any future forces, any speculation about that, would have to depend on a new agreement, and there is no agreement right now. So the agreement that people are focusing on is the agreement that ends in 2011. So I'm not going to stand here and speculate what will happen in a year and a half from now, except that there needs to be a new Iraqi Government, they need to look at the implementation of the current agreement, and they need to look at what they see as necessary in the future after the expiration of the agreement.
The Status of Forces Agreement was dealt with on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer yesterday as they addressed that day's violence. George Stephanopoulos filled in for Diane as anchor. For their Baghdad section, he was joined by Martha Raddatz.
George Stephanopoulos: Baghdad was rocked by two deadly bomb attacks today, exactly two weeks before the last US combat troops leave Iraq. It's the kind of carnage we saw constantly when the war was raging. A suicide bomber killed dozens of people at an Iraqi army recruiting station and later a fuel truck bomb killed at least 8. So let's bring in our Martha Raddatz for more on that and clearly, Martha, some are trying to take advantage of this turnover that's coming in just a couple of weeks.
Martha Raddatz: It sure seems that way, George. This was really a horrific bombing. There were Iraqi recruits trying to join the Iraqi army. Thousands of them lined up, they had been there all night, desperate for jobs. Someone walked in, apparently wearing a suicide vest, mingled among all these recruits and blew himself up. The vest was packed with nails. They say as many as 60 were killed, about a hundred injured. And there was also that fuel truck bombing that you mentioned where eight were killed so very, very reminiscent of the early days of the war, George.
George Stephanopoulos: Despite these bombings, no second thoughts by the Americans or the Iraqis.
Martha Raddatz: Well absolutely no second thoughts yet. Of course, American troops are supposed to be out of Iraq completely in 2011, the end of 2011. Only the Iraqis can change that and, I have to tell you, George, most of the people I talk to believe the Iraqis eventually will decide to change that and have many American troops remaining in country.
Similar statements about the SOFA were made yesterday by Hill and Monday in the joint-news conference the State Dept's Michael Corbin and DoD's Kahl Colin held and Kahl replied to a question asking about US forces remaining in Iraq after 2011, "The second question you asked about the post-2011 situation, I mean, it's a hypothetical so I can't comment on it because we don't have an Iraqi Government yet. The terms of the security agreement are clear, though, right? The terms of the security agreement, where were negotiated by the last administration and the Iraqi Government are that remaining U.S. forces will depart by the end of 2011. Any revision to that would have to be initiated by an Iraqi Government. We don't have a new Iraqi Government yet, and so it's -- and so if we have a new Iraqi Government and they come to us with a specific set of requests -- I don't think we can answer that question." And pair it with Corbin's assertion that "we're not leaving" in the following exchange:
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that, please? In your discussions with Turkey about the drawdown, are you talking about the possible Turkish military presence in the north of Iraq to ease the concerns of (inaudible) about the PKK?
MR. CORBIN: Colin, I don't know if you have anything to say. We -- our drawdown is based on our -- President Obama's plan for our presence in Iraq and we are, of course, consulting with all our regional neighbors and explaining that, but we don't -- and we do, as -- we consider the PKK a terrorist organization and we do work closely with the Iraqi Government and the Turks together and the representatives of the KRG on means to combat PKK terrorism. But we --
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. What about after you leave? I mean, do you think Peshmerga is --
MR. CORBIN: Well, the first thing is we're not leaving and this type of civilian cooperation, which is led by, for example, in this trilateral process that we have, it's led by civilians. It's the ministry of interior from the Turkish side, it's the Embassy with support from USFI on our side, it's the Kurdish minister of interior equivalent, and it's the – it was the Iraqi minister of state for national security affairs who was running this. So this type of cooperation has got to continue and it's important.
Violence? At least 12 reported deaths and 31 reported injured. The targets today were primarily police officers, Sahwa and Iraqi soldiers. Yesterday, attempts were made to kill 8 judges and 2 were successful attempts. Today, another 2 judges are reported assassinated.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded two people, two more Baghdad roadside bombings left ten people wounded, a Baghdad mortar attack injured two people, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier (two other people were injured), a Ramadi roadside bombing which wounded three people (including one police officer) and a Kasma Kilo car bombing which left three police officers and four by-standers injured. Reuters notes a Tikrit roadside bombing which claimed 2 lives and left two people wounded.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad assassination of 1 "government employee," the Baghdad assassination of Judge Jabir Jumaa and the Baghdad assassination of Judge Najim al Talabani (which follows yesterday's targeting of 8 judges, three of which were killed), a Baghdad Sahwa checkpoint was attacked leaving 1 Sahwa dead and two more wounded, 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul, 2 police officers shot dead in Kirkuk and, dropping back to Monday, 1 man shot dead in Mosul "and his young son" left wounded.
Yesterday CNN and the network's Alexander Mooney reported on the latest CNN - Opinion Research Corp poll which found "69 percent oppose the war in Iraq -- the highest amount of opposition in any CNN poll." And while respondents support a withdrawal they do so with eyes open to the possible issues arising when a withdrawal takes place: "Six in 10 say they are not confident in the Iraqi government's ability to handle the situation in that country." That's bad news for War Hawks. Opposing withdrawal, War Hawks always want to whine, "Think what will happen!" Americans, juding by the poll, are aware of the possibilities. They're also probably aware that the alternative is permanent occupation which they don't favor. Sentiment against the illegal war hardened sometime ago. And the poll indicates that attempts by War Hawks to insist the illegal war continue for 'humanitarian reasons' (so Samantha Power) will not work as a scare tactic. Iraq will rise or fall on its own when US forces leave -- whenever that is. The Iraqi people will determine their future and that may include determining that the exile class installed by the US government does not represent them or their country's best interests.
Thursday marks an important occasion for the staff of UNHCR and all humanitarian workers. It is the day that militants detonated a massive truck bomb in Baghdad in 2003, killing 22 people including 18 UN staff members and injuring dozens more. Last year, the UN and other humanitarian organizations began honouring the anniversary as 'World Humanitarian Day' in order to recognize the contribution made by humanitarian workers worldwide. Here at UNHCR, we spoke to a handful of our staff about their experience on the job. One story that we are publishing today, which is available here, reports on the unique challenges of working in Iraq and the broader Middle East. In another, which can be read here, Vincent Cochetel, who was kidnapped and held for nearly a year in Chechnya while serving as head of UNHCR's north Caucasus office, discusses the ordeal and the lessons it holds for his colleagues in the field. To learn more about World Humanitarian day, go here.
For UNHCR Iraqi staff member Wafa, just going to work and returning home at the end of the day is a life-threatening experience. Elias Shalhoub, a psychologist and protection officer in Lebanon, says the challenge for him lies in discussing the needs of refugees and not knowing whether he can help. Martha Kow-Donkor, a field officer for UNHCR in Yemen braves tribal checkpoints and mine fields to help deliver aid to internally displaced people there. Her main worry is failing to reach people in time. All three are struggling to balance the hardships, dangers and frustrations of their work with the UN Refugee Agency with the goal of helping some of the world's neediest people.
Andrew England (Financial Times of London) observes of the refugee crisis, "This enduring tragedy shows few signs of easing even as US troops prepare to leave Iraq next year. After the British-American invasion of 2003, Iraq sank into the bloody chaos of insurgency and sectarian violence. Entire neighbourhoods of the country's cities, particularly Baghdad, were cleared of either their Sunni or Shia inhabitants." Jonny Abo and Abdul Jalil Mustafa (DPA) note al-Mortagi Abdel-Moneim al-Kaabi, an Iraqi who became a refugee following being shot multiple times and who says, "I still suffer from a lot of diseases but thank God I'm alive, although I feel like I am psychologically bleeding because I cannot forget the painful memories." Now he and his wife (who has breast cancer and is receiving treatments for which charitable assistance -- from the UN -- only pays 40% of the cost ) live in Syria. Syria and Jordan have the bulk of Iraq's refugee population. Fiyaz Mughal (Daily Star) explains, "The Syrian government estimates that there are 1 million refugees in the country, the overwhelming majority coming from Iraq. In Jordan, estimates for Iraqi refugees range from 600,000 to 700,000 and the influx has led to a steep rise in real estate and food prices in urban areas. As a result, many Jordanians harbor increasing resentment toward refugees." Lebanon and Egypt also have a large amount. The western world has not done a very good job on the issue -- despite a lot of public pronouncements. Andrew Ward (Finanical Times of London) reports Sweden cares little for Iraqi refugees as evidenced by the tape interview of Iraqi Riyad with Swiss immigration officials. Riyad explains his brother was, beheaded, that, "They murdered my brother and would have done the same to me." To which the immigration official replies, "Yes, I know that. But it doesn't count that they might do the same thing to you; you have to prove there is an actual threat." Riyad's brother can prove it -- but of course that required his dying. Apparently, when Sweden deports Riyad, if he's killed in Iraq, they'll say, "Well, you proved it. You're dead, but we'll give you citizenship after-the-fact. Congratulations." A very small number make it to the US. (Detroit, the San Diego area and Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas in Texas have been among the areas many Iraqi refugees have settled in.) Anna Fifield (Financial Times of London) reports on Iraqi refugee Elham who lives with Ayd (her husband) in Maryland where she now works "as a doctor's assistant." In Iraq, Elham was a doctor, a gynecolist. She states, "Before we arrived, we were told that as doctors we would be welcomed with open arms. But when we got here, everyone told us we were over-qualified and that we should not mention our degrees, so that I could get a job as a housekeeper. [. . .] I was respected in Iraq as a doctor and now I come here and I am nothing. It's very difficult for me to accept this idea."
Among the hardest hit communities -- probably the second hardest hit when you break it down into percentages (the Jewish community in Iraq has vanished, they would be the worst hit) -- in the country is the Mandaeans which now counts, Stephen Starr (Asia Times) notes, 70,000 external refugees and only 5,000 still in Iraq. Starr offers this background:
Mandaeans are followers of John the Baptist and moved from the Holy Land to the expanses of today's southern Iraq and southwest Iran around the second century AD. Their religious origins are thought to have been drawn independently of Christianity and may even be older. They are monotheists - thought to be the oldest in the Middle East - believing in a single god. Mandaeans are also Gnostics, believing in mysticism and a heightened role of the natural world. Very little has been recorded of the Mandaean religion and traditions and in principle people cannot convert to, or leave, the religion. They speak their own language and have quietly been struggling to keep their customs alive for almost 2,000 years.
Iraq (MNN) -- "Get up! Grab your things. We need to go!" Imagine these words said in panic, as you and your family are given less than 24 hours to gather your belongings and leave your home in Iraq. Open Doors USA says for thousands of Iraqi Christians, this scenario has become a real life nightmare, as extremist Muslims force them to either leave their homes or pay with their lives. Often, believers only have time to grab a few essentials and leave with the clothes on their back. Among these items is usually a Bible, as they cling to it and its message of hope. To help these refugees, Open Doors is aiding in the set up medical projects, as well as distributing emergency packs, which include basic necessities. However, their response is dependent on faithful supporters lending their gifts and prayers. Pray that God will grant courage to these fleeing families. Pray that they will not back down from their faith, even in the midst of persecution. Also, you can give financial support to Open Doors USA's relief efforts by clicking here.
Steve Inskeep: And let's just emphasize here, is this turning into almost a permanent refugee population, a permanent population of Iraqis who will be outside their country the same way that there are Palestinians who have been outside of the Palestinian territories for decades now?
Deborah Amos: It begins to look that way. Not that there was ever a flood of returnees, there wasn't, but 2010 has been less than 2009. And people are making this calculation, that as long as there's a government crisis as the Americans drawdown, why would you go back now? It is not easy to be a refugee. It's likely that your kids are out of school. It is likely that your diet is a mess, that you're probably eating mostly, you know, sugared tea and bread, for at least two of those meals. The international community's largesse -- while never large, is less. People want this crisis to be over.
Steve Inskeep: And I suppose if you had another round of sectarian warfare, you'd have to be prepared for that possiblity of another million people coming across the border at some point.
Deborah Amos: You know, 18 months ago that was the nightmare scenario. As Americans drewdown, there would be a return to the full out sectarian war. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. However, it is this randomness of the violence and, more important, it is the inability of this government to find some power sharing agreement between Sunnis and Shi'ites. As you know, the majority of the refugees outside are Sunnis and Christians. They are watching a government that cannot come to terms with a Sunni-backed political coalition that won the most seats in Parliament, and yet has not been able to use that power to come into the prime ministership. Every country in the region is now meddling in Iraq because of the weakness of the state. And so, it is very difficult for them to consider returning. Better to wait, better to wait and see what happens.