Friday, May 20, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Countdown Friday sees protests in Baghdad and Mosul, Barack's speech does not go over well in Iraq, the country sees another prison break, Joan Wile talks peace and more.
But, first, let me tell you about COUNTDOWN FRIDAY – today – Tahrir, Baghdad welcomes hundreds of its old residents who visit it every Friday and they held a public auction for Haliki and his goons – the highest bid was a quarter of an Iraqi Dinar! People were obstructed by goons dressed in black carrying clubs and donkey sticks who tried to keep people away from the square, in particular on the western side of the square. A number of protestors were badly beaten up and verbally abused. Normal! We were told by protestors, live on air, that security forces were out in strength and some areas in Baghdad a curfew had been imposed. But the usual colourful crowd was in Tahrir, singing and reading poetry with the sad view of women with disappeared relatives holding their relatives' photographs. They had displayed beautifully amusing caricatures of Maliki! They all stated that it is not Maliki's or the parliament's decision to extend or not, the stay of the American Occupation – that it is the decision of the people and that they wanted the immediate departure of the American and the Iranian Occupations. Of course, they all sang our favourite song of Maliki being a liar and a thief. This song is a must as well as many others which have been composed since the Revolution began. A lady in Tahrir said that she had 5 brothers who had disappeared one of which was 13 years old since 2005, another, a son who was 15 years old and others and others…. I wonder what country Mr. Obama was talking about in his speech – and had he not intended to have his troops stay and had he not been sure that they were staying I wonder why he stated that Iraq was still under emergency rule for another year and why he stated that our funds are under protection for another year!!!!! At any rate, we know that the Americans and Maliki have already signed up. 5 bases at a cost of USD 400 billion – bases that are cities, totally self-sustaining and the largest embassy in the world – could it be called an embassy I wonder – with 20,000 employees as well as 18,000 mercenaries to protect it, or are they? Could they not be troops dressed in different uniforms???? With 2 official consulates and 2 regional offices as well as agents in every single Iraqi institution no matter how distant and unimportant as well as advisors. By the way, the British who announced a couple of days ago that that was their last day in Iraq are lying of course because there are and will be 5,000 British "advisors" remaining in Iraq! Just as there will be around 20,000 American advisors! Don't imagine that I am one of the few people who know these facts – Most of the Iraqi people know – go out amongst the simplest in out-lying areas in the country and you will be told this by the simplest farmer! Not that I have anytime for Mr. Obama and his lies, really – we really don't care about him or about what he has to say - we neither care nor are we impressed…. Lies, Lies, and more Lies!! I will only say one thing to Mr. Obama and the powers that be in America, watch out for the Iraqis. You really don't know what we can do when we get angry and just wait for July and August! I wonder what sort of democratic process he is speaking about and just as Haliki speaks about another planet so does Mr. Obama!
Dar Addustour notes approximately 2,000 protested in Mosul, carrying banners and chanting with demands including the departure of Nouri al-Maliki. Aswat al-Iraq notes that there were "hundreds" participating and that the demands also including that "the Iraqi government stop paying compensations to the Kuwaiti government. The compensations were imposed on Iraq after Gulf War I in 1991 by the UN Security Council."
Today Al Mada notes MP Sabah al-Saadi stating that it is highly likely that the agreement between the US and Iraq will be extended to keep approximately 20,000 US forces on the ground in Iraq past 2011. al-Saadi notes that 20,000 is the number being tossed around by the US in discussions with Iraqi officials. Another Al Mada article (also published today) on the issue notes that Robert Gates is pitching US troops as a way to "protect" the Iraqi government from popular protests. Gates appears to be on a mission to demonstrate just how hollow Barack's words were in yesterday's speech. In another article published today, Al Mada notes that Hezbollah Brigades have issued a statement that if the US stays in Iraq, armed violence will take place and the foreign occupiers will be expelled. Dar Addustour reported yesterday that Moqtada al-Sadr is now insisting that troops from "Arab and other foreign countries" be used to help stabilize Iraq in 2012. The other, right? Just sticks out there, doesn't it? Sounds like he means Iran, doesn't it? Wonder why that is? But he does realize the security situation talking point needs to be combatted so he runs with "our neighbors will help our defense." Fadel-Al Nashmi (Niqash) observes:
On one hand, locals have heard many Iraqi politicians say they don't want to see giant Hummers (American military vehicles) racing around their countryside anymore. On the other, they hear rumours, some of which come from inside the country's political elite, that there is a genuine need to keep US troops in Iraq for the sake of security, in a fledgling democracy not yet familiar with stability. Yet failure to declare an opinion on this issue remains the most common attitude in Iraq's political circles presently. During his most recent press conference, a journalist asked al-Maliki where he stood on the matter. Without any trace of irony, the prime minster replied: "There are governments and many other protagonists who want to know where I stand on this. Why would I tell you?" Nonetheless Azza Shabandar, an MP for the State of Law coalition, the second largest coalition in the Iraqi parliament which is headed by al-Maliki, told NIQASH that, "I can say with certainty that 80 to 90 percent of the political parties have a genuine desire to extend the presence of US troops in Iraq."
Al Rafidayn reports that a spokesperson for the Iraqiya (Ayad Allawi heads this political slate) stated yesterday that an agreement had been reached with State Of Law (Nouri heads this political slate) to move forward -- by submitting to Parliament -- drafts on the National Council for Strategic Policies and possibly move towards nominating a President of the National Council. What is that? March 7, 2010, Iraq held national elections. Allawi's slate came in first place. Slightly behind -- but behind nonetheless -- was Nouri's slate. Nouri refused to step aside or follow the Constitution. (The Constitution dictated that Allawi would have first short at forming a government -- that would have made him prime minister-designate -- and if he failed to do so after 30 days, the Parliament would pick a new prime minister-designate.) Nouri stubborness and crooked ways helped create the political stalemate that extended over nine months. Leaders from the National Alliance, State Of Law, Iraqiya, the two main KRG political parties and others gathered in Erbil in an attempt to end the stalemate. The deal they formed is known as the Erbil Agreement. It was formalized, it was signed, it should have been a done deal.
Immediately, it was announced the stalemate was over and, November 10th, efforts were made to move forward in Parliament. Nouri was named prime minister-designate (he would be named much later by Jalal Talabani in an abuse of power intended to give Nouri more than 30 days to form a Cabinet), there were efforts to clear up the names of several Iraqiya politicians who'd been falsely accused (by Nouri's henchman) of being Ba'athists. But Ayad Allawi and some others in Iraqiya walked out of that November 10th Parliament session. Why? He wanted the National Council to be voted on so it could become official. The Erbil Agreement made the National Council a board of review that had independence and true powers. And the deal was that Allawi would head it. Allawi sensed in the November 10th meeting that he was being played.
He was being played. And the National Council never did get created. All this time later. The rumors Al Rafidayn reported on could, if true, actually indicate some progress or progression in Iraq. However, yesterday evening, Aswat al-Iraq reported that Maysoun al-Damalouji, Iraqiya's spokesperson, was stating that no agreement had been reached. Aswat al-Iraq identifies Iraqiya's Shakir Kattab as the original source for the rumor and notes that the National Coalition denied any agreement had been reached. As Al Mada notes, this conflict has now raged for over a year and a half and, as it continues, there is a fear that this impass will become a norm in Iraqi politics.
That is one obstacle. February 3rd, the US Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing and the Chair, Carl Levin, noted obstacles in his opening remarks.
Chair Carl Levin: Last December, after eight months of discussions, Iraq's political leaders agreed to form a national unity government. But the agreement was only partial. Iraq still awaits the nominations by Prime Minister al-Maliki to the key cabinet positions of Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior and Minister of National Security as well as the resolution of issues relating to the powers of the National Council on Higher Priorities, to be headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. The pressure on the Iraqi government to fill in these large gaps must continue.
The National Council we've noted above. Iraq still has no Minister of Defense, no Minister of Interior and no Minister of National Security. It's three months since Senator Levin made those remarks. It's over five months since Nouri became prime minister and over six since he became prime minister-designate. (Per the Constitution, he should not have moved from prime minister-designate to prime minister unless he filled all the posts in his Cabinet. Per the Constitution, if he couldn't do that in 30 days -- and he couldn't -- then Parliament was supposed to select a new prime minister-designate and give them a chance to put together a Cabinet.
As violence continues to rise, Nouri al-Maliki still can't get his act together. Parliament will be taking a vacation shortly. Still no rush to fill the posts. These are the three security ministries. They are vacant. (Nouri insists that he is filling all three posts -- and being Prime Minister -- while they are empty. If so, it's past time that he was called out for the lousy job he's doing on security.) Not only is violence on the rise but Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) points out that government officials are now being targeted and "the latest wave of violence in the country, especially in past few weeks, has raised questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to protect the country as the United States plans to have all its troops out of Iraq by the end of this year."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters notes a police officer left injured in a Kirkuk attack, a Hawija roadside bombing which injured two people, a Baquba roadside bombing injured an imam and claimed the lives of 2 other people (one of which was the imam's son), 2 workers for "the Iraqi intelligence facility" were shot dead in Baghdad, and Col Nameer Khazaal was shot dead in Baghdad. Aswat al-Iraq notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the lives of 2 police officers leaving eight others injured, a Tikrit sticky bombing injured a police director (and his driver and the police director's legs were amputated."
We're not done. May 8th there was an attempted prison break. From the May 9th snapshot:
Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on a prison break aatempt of a suspect, Huthaifa Batawi, in the October 31st assault on Baghdad's Our Lady of Salvation Church. The death toll is 11 prisoners and six police officers: "The prisoners Sunday overpowered guards and killed a senior counter-terrorism general and five others before they were detained or shot dead. It was unclear how many detainees participated in the mayhem that lasted several hours." Jack Healy (New York Times) explains, "The melee inside the Baghdad prison began around 10 p.m. on Saturday when the man believed to have masterminded the church attack, Huthaifa al-Batawi, seized a police lieutenant's pistol, shot him in the head and led other inmates on a rampage, the officials said. It was unclear exactly where Mr. Batawi was when he grabbed the gun, but the authorities said that he and the other inmates had not been handcuffed, making it easier for them to overpower their captors, break out of a holding area and overrun the jail." Philip Caufield (New York Daily News) adds, "After killing his captors, al-Batawi freed nearly a dozen members of his crew, who snatched a cache of weapons -- including guns and grenades -- and attempted to overrun the prison, officials said." al-Batawi is among the dead.
Today a prison break. Alsumaria TV reports, "An Iraqi informed security source revealed on Friday that five chiefs of the Mehdi Army managed to escape from Taji prison, north of Baghdad. Three detainees were reported missing while transferring them to Karkh central prison, the Justice Ministry said. A special force from Prime Minister's office headed on Thursday night to Taji Prison, nothern Baghdad, to transfer detainees to one of the capital's prisons, the source told Alsumarianews. Five chiefs of the Mehdi Army including senior leader Saad Sowar managed to escape during the transfer, the source said." New Sabah states that 182 detainees were being transferred when the escape took place.
Yesterday US President Barack Obama gave another pretty speech. Iraqis were not impressed. Salar Jaff and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) report on the reaction at a Baghdad cafe and quote college student Ahmed Qoraishi stating, "Don't tell me the 'Arab Spring' is due to his efforts. On the contrary, I can tell that, deep inside, the Americans prefer a dictator here or there if they take care of the American national interests." Al Sabaah notes that some observers in Iraq feel Barack has contradicted himself and remember the campaign promises of 2008 and his Cario speech in 2009 -- how both years found him insisting that the internal affairs of Arab countries were their affairs and the US didn't need to interfere. Al Sabbah also points out that the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq has still not taken place. The Great Iraqi Revolution observes, "In his speech to the Arab World, asks Arab Leaders to respect their people and carry out reforms; he also mentioned all the Arab Revolts but did not mention the Iraqi Revolution whatsoever" and "Of course he would not mention us -- we are under their occupation and we are being ruled by his quizzlings but he is going to be surprised pretty soon!!!!!!" In the US, Trina observed, "Barack's decided he is the world's savior and set forward a list of conditions and pre-conditions that all nations will follow or else. [. . .] This was an awful speech and it was also a major one. It's the Barack Doctrine. The speech today is the equivalent of the 1999 Chicago speech Tony Blair made that became known as the Blair Doctrine. "
The day was downcast, but the wonderful high school seniors from Brooklyn Collaborative School standing in the rain on Fifth Avenue were not. You could say they were upcast. They were living proof that daring and principled teachers could raise their students' consciousness about the material and political costs of our current wars and integrate them into the anti-war movement.
It was the morning of May 18. About 8 or 9 kids, all Latino and African American, had joined the Grandmothers Against the War weekly vigil at Rockefeller Plaza. Their Social Economics teacher, Stephen Simons, thought it would make a good field trip to supplement their class discussions regarding the question: was the Iraq war a just one?
Seniors from the Brooklyn Collaborative Studies school at (photo by Rex Bounds)
the Grandmothers Against the War vigil May 18, 2011
It would have done your hearts good to join with them, just as it did our hearts. Every single one of the youngsters is going on to college -- one with a full scholarship to Bard College and one with a full scholarship to Franklin and Marshall College. I suspect this impressive feat is due in part to the influence of their teacher.
Carol Husten, a former teacher and member of the Granny Peace Brigade, began the event by drawing the kids out about their thoughts relative to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It became quickly apparent that the students were very well versed in the causes and effects of the war. When Ms. Husten asked them, for instance, why they thought we invaded Iraq when there were actually no weapons of mass destruction, one young man promptly replied, "Oil." They were also very aware of the fallacies spouted by military recruiters to lure kids into their ranks.
Barbara Harris, Chair of the Granny Peace Brigade Counter Recruitment Committee, explained Opt-Out options so that recruiters wouldn't be able to harass them in their homes. She told them that though they would be assured of being trained for all sorts of non-fighting jobs, in actuality they would be trained for only one thing -- combat!
Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans for Peace, Bill Steyert, described the horrors and the immorality of the Vietnam war and urged the young people to stay out of the military.
At that point, the kids read to us a statement they prepared for our event, as follows:
"In May of 2003, former President Bush stated the Iraq War was part of 'Mission Accomplished.'Last year, 2010, President Obama shared that troops would come home by August 2011. Please, Mr. President, keep your word. No May 18th, 2012 with our troops in Iraq, no American troops engaged in warfare in our name. For the future of this country, re-do the American military budget. Switch for education and peace."
One of the students, Miguel Gomez, the person going to Franklin and Marshall, had this to say when asked what his conclusion was as to whether the Iraq war was a just one:
"The Iraq war is one of the most controversial wars that impacted society. Thousands of innocent civilians died in Iraq, thousands of our own men died and to this day they are still recovering dead bodies. I believe the Iraq war is an unjust war because of the amounts of lives that were taken in vain due to an unclear cause, and because we destroyed a country that never hurt us. The living conditions in Iraq are worse in comparison to Saddam Hussein's control in the past. We are enemies to ourselves because we are hurting another country, killing our own men, and hurting our economy. Bring our Troops Home !!"
Senior Andrea Navarro, who will be attending the College of Staten Island in the fall, answered the same question this way:
"I believe the war in Iraq was an unjust one. We went in for mysterious reasons and it has taken away funds needed at home for education and health care."
We were extremely inspired by these marvelous youngsters. We have long bemoaned the fact that there are no youths in today's anti-war movement -- we believe that without them policy cannot be changed, as it was in the Vietnam era. But the Brooklyn kids gave us hope that they can reverse the inertia of their generation about the wars and lead the way for them to become committed peace activists.
We grannies will not be here forever, and we urgently need to believe others will follow us and continue our struggle for peace. The Brooklyn high school students helped assure us we needn't worry.
Postscript: We were delighted to learn after the vigil that one of the students told
his classmates as they left that he had thought about joining the military, but after hearing Barbara Harris describe the truth about the recruiters' phony promises he had changed his mind.
ABC News Radio reports on the annual mental health survey for the Army which finds "actue stress and combined psychological problmes in 2010 is more than double what it was in 2005." That's surprising how? This issue's been raised before Congress in one hearing after another during the last five years. Lot of talk, lot of promises from the Defense Dept Secretary Robert Gates. No changes. Anna Mulrine (Christian Science Monitor) reports of the study:
Senior US military officials say they are hopeful that the research will provide insights into better caring for American soldiers currently facing "incredibly high" levels of combat. The increased exposure to heavy fighting appears to be the No. 1 reason for the decrease in morale among soldiers, according to US military officials. "As a group, we were struck by the fact that levels of combat are extremely high," says Col. Paul Bliese, director of the division of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents in the survey, for example, reported having roadside bombs explode "near" them, and more than three-quarters of troops surveyed say that they had seen a fellow soldier in their unit killed. Some 80 percent reported "shooting at [the] enemy," and nearly half, 48 percent, said they were "responsible for the death of [a] combatant."
So "senior US military officials say they are hopeful that the research will provide insights," are they? Again, five years of this nonsense. The definition of insanity may need to be changed to "expecting Congress to solve the nation's problems."
Zooming in on women veterans, Shari Roan (Los Angeles Times) reports from the American Psychiatric Association, "In the study, presented this week, researchers studied 922 National Guard members -- including 91 women -- under mandatory deployment to Iraq in 2008. The guard members were screened using mental-health measures before deployment and three months after deployment. The study found that women were much more likely than men to meet the criteria for PTSD after returning home -- 18.7% of women had PTSD compared with 8.7% of men. There were no significant differences between men and women in their level of combat exposure. The women were much less likely to feel well-prepared for combat before deployment and were more likely to report a lack of unit cohesion during deployment."
Gee. Why might there be a problem with unit cohesion?
WENDY BARRANCO: My first experience with sexual harassment was with my recruiter...
NATHAN PELD: There was a young girl who I went to nuke school with who was working in our divisional office...
BARRANCO: Through that whole deployment I was harassed like every single day, I dreaded every day I went to work...
PELD: And she had a direct superior come in, and they had talked for a while, just genuine conversation, and then he dropped his pants and exposed himself to her...
BARRANCO: And I never reported it because it was just - I knew command wasn't going to do anything about it so there was no point...
PELD: When this reached the senior enlisted commander in my department he took it and tried to initiate a cover up...
BARRANCO: The last thing I would've imagined would've been joining an organization where by my own peers, by my own comrades I would've been harassed in that way.
PELD: Those members who try to play games of male dominance, you know, they receive all but a free pass.
The policy against women assigned to ground combat units has been in effect since the beginning of the U.S. military. (Regulations forbidding women to serve as crew members of planes and ships engaged in combat weren't even lifted until the mid-'90s.) But as circumstances change -- asymmetric wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: higher numbers, expanding opportunities and growing visibility of women in uniform -- it's becoming increasingly clear that the next blow against the military's bulletproof glass ceiling will be directed against the ban on women in Special Forces.
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.