Thursday, May 19, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Kirkuk is slammed with bombings, Barack expands the 'reasons' why the US will now go to (illegal) war, and more.
"I saw a lot of dead bodies, burned dead bodies." Yahya Barzanji (AP) quotes eye witness Adnan Karim stating. Asso Ahmed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) quote police officer Fadl Ahmed stating, "I saw one of my officers. I had said good morning to him by the lot and when I came back, he was dead." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports Kirkuk was slammed with bombings today which resulted in at least 27 deaths with sixty-nine more left injured. Sahar Issa (McClatchy News) breaks it down, "Two coordinated explosions targeted the police headquarters in Kirkuk, 140 miles north of Baghdad, killing 25 people and wounding at least 65, security officials said. A third blast struck the motorcade of the city's chief counterterrorism official, killing four security guards and seriously wounding nine others." Fang Yang (Xinhua) adds, "The attack took place in the morning rush hours when a sticky bomb attached to a car detonated at a parking lot in front of a police headquarters in central the city of Kirkuk, some 250 km north of Baghdad, the source said. Afterwards, a booby-trapped car parked at the scene went off as Iraqi security forces and dozens of onlookers gathered at the site of the first blast, the source added." Mustafa Mahmoud (Reuters) quotes police officer Talib Jabar, "I was on my way into police headquarters and suddenly I fell to the ground, but did not feel anything because I lost consciousness. When I woke up I found myself in the hospital with doctors around me and I was bleeding everywhere."
KUNA cites Kirkuk's Health Director Seddiq Abdulrasoul for the death toll of 30 and the for "no less than 90 others injured." The BBC notes that those harmed included many police officers. Vatican Radio observes, "One of the bombs targeted the head of the city's anti-terrorism unit. He survived unharmed, but four of his body guards were killed." ITN adds, "Television video has shown the twisted, burned wreckage of several cars in the street as police officers picked through the debris." Jack Healy (New York Times) recaps, "The attackers used a now-familiar tactic, detonating a small improvised explosive device attached to a sedan in a parking lot outside the local police headquarters. After police rushed to the scene, a larger car bomb went off, killing 17 officers and 11 civilians." Tim Craig and Aziz Alwan (Washington Post) provide this context, "The attack came a day after Iraqi security officials announced they had captured several local leaders with suspected ties to al Qaeda. It was one of several in Iraq Thursday, most of which appeared aimed at police officers."
The oil-rich region of Kirkuk is disputed with the KRG and the central 'government' out of Baghdad both insisting they have dibs on the region. Under Saddam Hussein, Kurds were expelled from the region and, since the start of the Iraq War, the KRG has made efforts to ship Kurds into the region. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) explains, "Kirkuk is a historically Kurdish city which was excluded by Saddam Hussein from the self-governing Kurdish autonomous region, leading to the departure of many of its inhabitants. But since the fall of Saddam many Kurds have returned and are agitating for its inclusion in the autonomous [KRG] region." Jane Arraf (Al Jazeera) provides this walk through, "Kirkuk is quintessentially the disputed city: the Kurds see it as their internal homeland, they believe it has always belonged to them even though it is under Iraqi goernment control. The city is claimed by Arabs as well, of course, as well as Turkmen who are a substantial population there. On top of all that it is the centre of the oilfields -- it has enormous oil reserves and it has been fought over for decades." Iraq's Constitution (passed and ratified in 2005) explained how the issue would be settled.
First: The executive authority shall undertake the necessary steps to complete the implementation of the requirements of all subparagraphs of Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law.
Second: The responsibility placed upon the executive branch of the Iraqi Transitional Government stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law shall extend and continue to the executive authority elected in accordance with this Constitution, provided that it accomplishes completely (normalization and census and concludes with a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed territories to determine the will of their citizens), by a date not to exceed the 31st of December 2007.
The Iraqi Constitution can be found [PDF format warning] here at the UN webpages.
By 2007, a census and referendum would have taken place -- leaving the issue up to the inhabits of the region. But, check the calendars, it's 2011, four years after the referendum was supposed to take place and it never has. Nouri al-Maliki was supposed to have overseen it but he was either unable or unwilling to do so. He continually pushed the date back. It was most recently supposed to have taken place in December of 2010. He made that promise while seeking to continue as prime minister. In November, he became prime minister-designate. Almost immediately, he then cancelled the scheduled census.
So the tensions continue to thrive and build in Kirkuk. As a result, certain 'team-building' exercises take place. Marwan Ibrahim (AFP) observes, "Currently, US forces participate in confidence-building tripartite patrols and checkpoints with central government forces and Kurdish security foficers in Kirkuk and across northern Iraq." Asso Ahmed and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) add, "Despite eight years of American-backed efforts to mediate a solution, the sides remain at loggerheads." But it was seven years, not eight. See Chris Hill blew off the issue. He did so at his Senate confirmation hearing, he did so as US Ambassador to Iraq and he did so after he was finally replaced. (Did anyone ever get shown the door as quickly as Hill?) While ambassador, he showed up on PRI and NPR radio programs insisting that the Kirkuk issue was minor (echoing his words at his confirmation hearing). Even earlier this month, in Denver, in a public 'conversation' (Hill can't debate -- big surprise) with Bruce Hoffman, Hill was still down playing the issue of Kirkuk. (This is in direct contrast to the US Ambassador to Iraq who preceeded him, Ryan Crocker, and the one who followed him, James Jeffrey. Jeffrey is the current ambassador.) Sky News states, "US officials have persistently said that the unresolved row [over Kirkuk] is one of the biggest threats to Iraq's future stability." And they're correct if you leave out Chris Hill. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) sums up, "Violence and ethnic tensions are on the rise there. In recent months, after protests over problems with electricity and other public services, the governor and the head of the provincial council resigned and were replaced by a Kurd and a Turkomen, whiich Kirkuk's Arabs considered a slight."
In other violence today, Reuters notes a Qaiyara roadside bombing claimed the lives of 4 Iraqi soldiers, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 cleric and left two other people injured and a Baquba car bombing which claimed two lives and left ten people injured.
Ben Lando: Iraq Oil Report is a news site that I started to cover the story of Iraq by looking at one of the major factors of Iraq's history and current possible funds for progress as well as fuel for problems which is the oil sector. And we let that tell the story of the society and politics and economy and security.
Gordon Evans: Through oil?
Ben Lando: Through -- through the story of developing and the fight over the prosperity of the oil sector.
Gordon Evans: Ali, is that a valuable lesson, do you believe, for people in this country and maybe some other countries not familiar with Iraq to kind of see the country through that lens?
Ali: Which lens do you mean? Through which one?
Gordon Evans: The lesson of oil, energy, those sorts of things. What Ben just talked about.
Ali: Well I think it is a very encouraging. It is very important because now Iraq is taking another course. It's a different course from what used to before 2003. The oil ministry, Iraq now, with these bidding rounds and oil development now within the country, I think the people need a thing like this in order to know what's going on. The people -- not just the businessman and the companies and the others -- but the people themselves need to know what's going on. The details about their oil. So I think it is a very good project.
[. . .]
Ben Lando: I think that the understanding of Iraq, the history of Iraq and even the social make up of Iraq was missing and that's evident in the-the planning for and the execution of the occupation of the country. It was clear that the US government didn't understand the tribal make up and all these very different factors that make up a complex and extremely historical society. That you could go in there and say, "Well forget about, you know, history in your country, you know, that goes back to -- legend has it -- the Garden of Eden and we're going to, here's this democratic model and you're going to be successful and peaceful in the middle of the Middle East. So I think it's clear that our country has a lack of understanding of the country. The US has a lack of understanding of Iraq. We as journalists, I think, we try our best, sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't, in explaining what's happening in the country and the plight of the people in the country. But there's always room for further understanding. I mean, I learn more about the country every day so you can't expect somebody living and working in the US to understand it very well. But there definitely is a knowledge gap and this is why these statements by politicians or want-to-be politicians like this [referring to Donald Trump and his claim that the US should take Iraqi oil].
Gordon Evans: How long have you been in Baghdad now?
Ben Lando: I first -- My first trip there was in the beginning of 2008 and I've been living there for two years or just about two years.
Gordon Evans: So when you come back to the US and you talk to people about what's happening in Iraq, what are the things that you hear just talking to friends or family or strangers that you believe are perhaps the biggest misconceptions about what's happening?
Ben Lando: I think the biggest misconception is that it's some sort of peace that's taken hold and that democracy's taken hold. And those are the two biggest misconceptions. Now I think that there's -- at least for "democracy" -- in these air quotation marks I'll put it in -- is that there's opportunity for that. As Ali can attest to, it's definitely not peaceful. I mean, we were in the coffee shop today and looked at the news and saw that there was a bomber that killed 27 at a police recruiting station, injured 72. And this is -- smaller events like this happen every day. I mean it's still a violent place. And it's not -- It's not a place that one feels comfortable. Even somebody who's lived there your entire life, right?
Gordon Evans: Ali, would you agree that that is probably the biggest misconception that we Americans have about Iraq?
Ali: I do agree with my colleague. The plans started to become wrong, to be honest, from 2003. From the very beginning. From the very beginning that theAmbassador [L. Paul] Bremer the civil administrator when he was taken -- brought to Iraq. So I think the mistakes, when you look at the house, the most important is how to make the basement. So the basement, the bricks in the basement were wrong.
Gordon Evans: The foundation?
Ali: Foundation. So there was mistakes in the foundation. So how you can build on a wrong foundation? This -- This is all, you know, the army, you know people brought to join the political process. So many things went wrong, I think, from the beginning.
Gordon Evans: So what are some ideas for moving forward? And I guess maybe no necessarily your's but what do you hear from Iraqis when you talk to them -- their leadership or just people on the street? What are their ideas about how do you get Iraq from where it is now to perhpas a better place, if you will?
Ben Lando: I think that the -- So far and up until now, the direction of the country hasn't been chosen by the people of Iraq-- in general or as individuals. It's been chosen by a series of violent actors, foreign armies, foreign funded militias, things like that, terrorist groups and by people who were born in Iraq and most of which haven't lived in Iraq for a lot of their years prior to 2003 so who are very disconnected from what it's like as an average Iraqi, what the average struggle is or what has been the average struggle for 30, 40 years in the country. So I think that it is -- The mass amount of people, the 29 million people who are Iraqis, have had their lives, since 2003, ruled by and decision made by and the government organized by people who don't really represent them and their interests. And so I would say, as an American, let the Iraqis figure out how they want their country.
Gordon Evans: But I can hear somebody objecting right now saying, wait a minute, they've held elections.
Ben Lando: Yeah. See -- and we've talked about this. Elections are one thing. The elections in 2010, the most recent national election where they had some monitors and there were some issues but overall it was considered a very credible election by observers, by journalists who had access to the polling stations which we went to. And even -- We went to this polling station which is right behind the Abu Hanifa Mosque which is the last place Saddam [Hussein] was seen free, he gave his kind of farewell speech, 'we'll return,' that type of thing and this is the heart of Saddam-held Baghdad. And we went there, we saw the election. The election was good. But what happened after that? The election gave, basically legitimized fighting between politicians to continue. And thus because the US has basically said "democracy" without defining it and then said "Do it." The leaders say, "Okay, well we were elected, so since we were elected, this is a democracy, the elected officials can do what we want. We don't have to follow the Constitution, we can kind of detain people, we can torture, we can have secret prisons where we torture people. We can beat up journalists as they're covering protests and we can beat up the protesters and detain them indefinitely. And it's legitimate because we had an election." That's the definition of "democracy" transplanted into a country that model doesn't necessarily fit with.
And in these times of trouble, Barry-Barry breezes by, speaking words of blather, sit it down, sit it down. US President Barack Obama decided to remember Iraq today in his speech. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera) Tweeted:
And what a speech it was. CBS has text and video here. If people pay attention, Mr. Pretty Words failed. On every level. For example, to claim that a half a century after the end of colonialism (the end? really?) that people need to stop pointing to that as an ill responsible for their current problems? ("The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.") Words have consequences, as Barack knows. What's he saying? A half a century is the time limit? Because there are people who will apply that in the US to other "ills." (Slavery, for example.) Will people call it out? Or will the Cult of St. Barack just continue madly clapping as they wet themselves?
Probably just continue to wet themselves. The speech was nothing but a neoliberal argument for more war. (Samantha Power was among those providing input for the speech, FYI.)
Here's Barack telling the world what the US will now go to war for -- no longer just nukes and borders, mind you:
And that's why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then -- and I believe now -- that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.
So we face a historic opportunity. We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It's not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -- it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it's the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome.
Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don't align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles -- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:
The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.
The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -- whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.
That's truly frightening. And the fact that they're marketing war on catch phrases and abstractions should appall any sentient being. One example, freedom of speech in one place is different from freedom of speech in another, as Barack damn well knows. Declaring that war is on the table if you don't live up to the rights as the US lists them and as the US sees them is a very scary notion and far, far from the principle of just war which allowed you to go to war when your country was physically attacked by another country not when your sensibilities were offended.
There is no universal measure for "freedom of speech" or "freedom of religion." Some would argue that France, which strives to be extremely secular, is the ultimate for freedom of religion, others would disagree. What Barack wants to insist are universal principles are not, in fact, universally defined. More importantly, in many (all?) countries (certainly in the US), the people are always in the midst of an ongoing debate about rights. So now the US government is claiming the right to pick sides in foreign countries? In prior times, the US government respected (or pretended to) the rights of people in another country to define themselves. Now there will be a set of guidelines that the US came up with and that the US will define? And these guidelines will carry the country into more wars.
This is nothing but another attempt to bully. It is not about justice. It will not be applied equally. It has not been in the last months under Barack.
While he spins and lies, the reality is he didn't do a damn thing to stop the attacks in Iraq. Journalists weren't just attacked while covering protests. On February 25th -- to cite only one specific date -- journalists in Baghdad, after the protests, were having lunch and they were attacked while they were seated at their table by Iraqi forces under the command of Nouri al-Maliki. They were beaten, right there in front of every other diner, with the butts of rifles and then they were dragged off to a security vehicle, dragged off to a cell, threatened, beaten, forced to sign papers stating they were not tortured and finally released. Did you hear one word for Barack? No, you didn't. Not one damn word. And just last week, Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com) was pointing that reality out:
In Iraq, "Arab Spring" protests continue, as they have across the Middle East, but – unlike the demonstrations in Egypt, the civil war in Libya, and the violently-repressed upsurge in Syria – the Western news media has decided not to cover them. When thousands jammed the streets of Suleimaniya, the supposedly pro-occupation, pro-American capital city of the Kurdish autonomous region – Maliki and his Kurdish equivalents sent the Iraqi army in to crush the incipient rebellion no less violently than Syria's Assad is now doing in Syria. Yet we hear nothing from the White House, nothing from the media, and nothing from the former leaders of the "antiwar" movement – yes, I'm talking to you, Leslie Kagan, you fraud – after they folded up their tents and went off to work for Obama's election (and re-election).
Meanwhile the US is attempting to extend the military's stay in Iraq and England is gearing up for this Sunday, their kind-of-sort-of-we're-out-and-it's-for-real-this-time-we-promise 'departure' (see yesterday's snapshot or this Washington Post report by Tim Craig) which brings us to Australia where Kevin Rudd replaced John Howard as Prime Minister and the move came in part due to Rudd and his party's opposition to the Iraq War and Rudd's promise that he would pull Australia troops out of Iraq. Rudd was kicked to the curb in about the same time it took for Gordon Brown to win and lose the post of prime minister in England.
Australian Defence Force (ADF) members of Security Detachment Seventeen, known as SECDET XVII, returned home to Australia today after a successful eight-month deployment to Iraq .
The 33-member team was deployed as part of Operation KRUGER, the ADF's contribution to the provision of security and support for the Australian Embassy and its staff in Baghdad .
A parade was held at the Australian Baghdad Embassy on 14 May 11 to transfer responsibility to the new rotation, SECDET Eighteen (XVIII), from the Brisbane-based 1st Military Police Battalion.
Commander of Australian Forces in the Middle East , Major General Angus Campbell, said that the members of SECDET XVII had accomplished their mission of supporting Australian diplomats.
"Although security in Baghdad is improving, it's essential our Embassy staff are protected while undertaking their important duties," Major General Campbell said.
"Your contribution in providing security has been invaluable to the successful Australian diplomatic mission in Iraq ."
The ADF has been providing security to the Australian Embassy in Bagdad for eight years.
During the deployment, SECDET XVII supported more than 1127 security activities for Embassy staff, averaging five separate tasks per day.
The detachment was raised by the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Darwin and comprised personnel drawn from seven units across the Army and Air Force.
Officer Commanding SECDET XVII, Major Shaun Richards, said his unit had continued the achievements of previous deployments and built on Defence's reputation for professional service in support of its Foreign Affairs partners.
"Our efforts in providing security to the Australian Embassy in a difficult environment have allowed the diplomatic effort to succeed in its mission to promote Australia 's national interests." Major Richards said.
SECDET XVII arrive home in Australia on Thursday, 19 May 11.
The Swedish ambassador to Iraq denied claims of a behind-the-curtains deal between the two countries to deport Iraqis in return for loans being dropped. Refugee groups have alleged that deals were signed between Iraq and certain EU countries by which Iraq would receive deported Iraqi refugees and in exchange, debts owed to these countries would be cancelled.
Today, however, as Rall's example dramatizes, things are worse: much worse. The intellectual and political atmosphere of lockstep conformity – especially, I would argue, in the realm of foreign policy – is just as strictly enforced as ever, as Rall has found out.
As for us here at Antiwar.com: our nominal allies, the "progressive" antiwar movement of yesteryear, have deserted us in droves. As long as it's not a Republican President slaughtering innocent civilians, as long as it's "our first African-American president" invading the Muslim world, as long as their team is in power – well, then, it's okay, everything's hunky-dory, and please don't rock the boat.
I imagine my politics are quite different from Rall's, but we both face the same conundrum: how to speak truth to power when the powerful control the media, the money, and the "mainstream."
Oh, so you want us to get out of Afghanistan – well, that's just not "mainstream," don'tcha know?!
You say you're sick of endless war, and America's emerging police state? What are you – some kind of rabid "extremist"?
The smear campaign against me I don't mind so much: it's too absurd to be taken seriously, and, besides that, I never sought to become a "mainstream" media "star." I have to say, however, when I was purged as a blogger from the Huffington Post, the reasons given to me by cult-follower Arianna Huffington were quite explicit: I'm too hard on Israel. A letter-writing campaign to get me off the site was apparently quite successful.
I can live without being one of Arianna's unpaid blog-slaves: the point is that, in Arianna's world, the arbiters of political correctness and good taste have divined that I'm a purveyor of "conspiracy theories," to use her phrase. That's code for any opinion that holds our elites responsible for the present state of the world. If Arianna wanted to stay a member in good standing of that elite – she once boasted about having the President's personal phone number ensconced in her legendary Blackberry – I had to go, and go I did.
Antiwar.com has never gotten a blessed dime from any big foundation, left or right. A recent attempt by someone affiliated with a major libertarian foundation that sponsors interns to work with us was vetoed by "headquarters" – no names here, but you get the idea. One would think that a web site of this type, with an entire stable of articulate and readily available writers, would garner lots of face time in the cable news universe, where foreign policy matters are now all the rage: and you would be wrong. There's only one side of the "debate" that's allowed to appear in television, for the most part, and that's the War Party's side.
Aside from the media blackout, however, there's another side to the dominance of the Obama cult in "progressive" circles that is having a significant effect on Antiwar.com's fortunes: fund-raising. Our current fund-raising campaign is, so far, an absolute disaster. On the morning of the second day of the campaign, we had less than $3000 raised. If this goes on, we will be forced to close down in the very near future – it's as simple as that.
The intellectual atmosphere of this country, especially when it comes to the question of war and peace, is absurdly narrow: we are faced with a "choice" between partisan brands of interventionism, between the unilateral belligerency of the neoconservative right and the self-righteous "multi-lateral" interventionism of the Obama crowd. The two factions, however, are variations on a single theme of American (or Western) global hegemony, a "world order" ruled from Washington, London, and Paris. A multinational "elite" which owes loyalty to nothing but its own power and privileged existence has detached itself from the common herd: while the rest of us struggle to survive at the bottom. The aristocrats of the global order, who live in state-supported- and-subsidized luxury, are concentrated in the Imperial City of Washington, D.C., where they hand the media their "talking points." These pundits and "journalists" are little more than servitors of the royal court.