Thursday, August 24, 2006

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, August 24, 2006. Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, John Abizaid must be drinking something stronger than cough syrup,  Ehren Watada's father Bob continues speaking out to raise awareness about his son, a British military flack plays word games, Operation Happy Talk launches a new wave and reality (as is so often the case) crashes into the propaganda. 
The BBC sums up the reality this way: "At least 12 Iraqis and three US soldiers have died in bombings and gun attacks across Iraq in the last 24 hours, officials say."  As Elena Becatoros (Associated Press) notes: "The killings came despite assurances from U.S. officials that progress was being made to improve security in the capital."
We'll start with the violence and chaos. 
Elena Beatoros (AP) notes that a US soldier died today "when his vehicle was hit by a a roadside bomb south of Baghdad."   Reuters  notes three car bombs and two roadside bombs today in Baghdad have taken at least four lives and left 24 injured. The AP notes that three police officers were killed in Baquba (minivan bomb) that left another wounded and, on the edges of Baquba, a roadside bomb claimed the lives of three Iraqi soldiers.
A US soldier was killed on Wednesday (one of the three noted at the beginning) in what the BBC describes as "small-arms fire" to the south of Baghdad. Also dying on Wednesday from gunfire (and not included in yesterday's snapshot -- it wasn't reported then) were three police officers in Balad. Reuters reports seven who had been shot dead were taken to a hospital in Mosul and that three police officers were shot dead in Balad (those six are today, yesterday three police officers were shot dead in Balad).
 Elena Becatoros (AP) notes that a US soldier was shot dead in Baghdad today while on a patrol.
Reuters reports a corpse discovered in Suwayra ("handcuffed . . . gunshot wounds"); one discovered near Latifiya ("handcuffed, blindfolded . . . gunshot wounds"), a third discovered in Tikrit; a fourth discovered Baiji (this was the body that went with an earlier discovered severed head) and three more ("handuffed . . . gunshot wounds") were discovered in Baghdad.
And in the face of the above, General John Abizaid launched a wave of Operation Happy Talk that out does the strongest happy talker.  (Okay, maybe not Dexy Filkins.)  "I think there has been great progress on the security front in Baghdad recently," declared Abizaid.  Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister and puppet of the occupation, knew Happy Talk wasn't enough.  Instead, AFP reports, he "has banned television channels from broadcasting gory images of daily bloodshed in the country".  Keep it off the TV screens, the thinking seems to go, and Iraqis will forget that they're occupied.  This 'policy' seems to invite government censorship as someone has to determine what will "arouse passions and sectarian feelings".  All this time after Paul Bremer had a hissy fit over an editorial cartoon, the press is still the occupation's first target.
Meanwhile British troops of the Soldiers of the Queen's Royal Hussars are . . . on the move.  Ross Colvin (Reuters) reports a lot of talk about how they're 'stripped-down' and mobile (in Landrovers) but the reality is that they're also homeless -- they've "abandoned their base in Iraq's southern Maysan province on Thursday".  Though the base was under "nightly attack" and though it has, indeed, been abandoned, British flack Charlie Burbridge disagrees that "the British had been forced out of Amara". 
Meanwhile, in the United States, Ehren Watada's father Bob continues his efforts to get the word out on his son, the first known commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq.  Momo Chang (Oakland Tribune) quotes Bob Watada saying: "Ehren is not doing this for himself.  He is doing this for every American who believes in democracy and the Constitution. . . . And I am very proud of him."  NBC11 reports Bob Watada, speaking in San Jose, saying, "My son is very strong.  He's going to -- even if there's a court-martial, he's going to go to jail instead of killing innocent Iraqis -- that's the real tragedy here."
Chang notes that Bob Watada will have taken part in 25 speaking engagements during his brief time in the San Francisco Bay Area and that Sarah Olson (one of two journalists the governments wants as witnesses against Ehren Watada should a court-martial be scheduled) has stated, "It's not my job as a journalist to help the Army prosecute Lt. Watada."
Bob Watada continues to speak out and here are some of the upcoming events:

Thu. 8/24
7pm Reception & Educational Event
Newman Center, 5900 Newman Ct.,
Contact: Sacramento-Yolo Peace Action 916-448-7157
Fri. 8/25
No. Cal. Japanese
Christian Theological Forum
Berkeley Methodist United Church-
1710 Carleton St/McGee in Berkeley
Contact: Laura Takeuchi 510-848-3614

Film Screening & Speakers
Santa Cruz Veterans Building
Contact: Sharon Kufeldt 650-799-1070

Sat. 8/26 7-9pm
Educational & Cultural Event
Berkeley Friends
Church; 1600 Sacramento St.,
Contact: Betty Kano 510-684-0239

Sun. 8/27 4-6pm Speaking Event
AFSC building, 65-Ninth St., SF
Contact: Martha Hubert 415-647-1119
A complete list of the events Bob Watada will be taking part in can be found here.
Remember: Cedric (Cedric's Big Mix) is advising those calling Donald Rumsfeld (703-545-6700) or mailing him (1000 Defense Pentagon, Washington, DC 20301-1000) to say: "Hands off Ehren Watada! Let him go." Billie advises that you can use to e-mail the Pentagon. She suggests "Re: Ehren Watad" or "ATTN: DONALD RUMSFELD." Courage to Resist and will continue to offer resources, ideas and inspiration. Get the word out.
Ehren Watada is only one resister.  Yesterday on  KPFA's Flashpoints, Dennis Bernstein spoke with war resister Carl Webb who has repeatedly refused to serve in the Iraq war.  As noted at The Third Estate Sunday Review, Webb recieved a letter saying that he was released from the Texas National Guard but, as Jeff Mackler pointed out, Webb also got a second letter saying that "they were reassinging him to the pool for the people who could be drafted."  ("Drafted" refers to the stop-loss/backdoor draft program.  Those new to this topic can refer to Scott Cannon and Rick Montgomery's "Back-Door Draft Shakes The Military" from the Kansas City Star.)
Replying to a question from Bernstein as to whether or not he had any regrets, Webb replied, "No, I have no regrets at all" and noted the importance of raising awareness about the GI resistance and getting the word out on "how much GI resistance there is in the military because that's why I'm here, to tell my fellow soldiers that they don't have to obey orders, that they have to refuse by any means necessary."
Webb discussed the story of his refusal to serve in an illegal war and noted, "I'm here hoping to be an example not only to do those being called up but to anyone in the military".   Webb will be speaking this Saturday in San Francisco:
Aug. 26 7:30 pm
Socialist Action Bookstore
298 Valencia St.
San Francisco
Jeff Mackler is running for the US Senate out of California the seat currently occupied by War Hawk Dianne Feinstein. Yesterday, on The KPFA Evening News, Feinstein revealed that she'd come to the conclusion intelligence was misused and abused to lead us into war.  Three years and a primary challenger was all it took.  Possibly in three more years she may be able to note the illegal nature of the war as well.
[Rebecca noted Bernstein's interview with Carl Webb yesterday.]
In Australia, the military inquiry into the April 21st death of Jake Kovco in Baghdad continues.  The lead in the reports is about a big, teary performance delivered by a witness -- Brigadier Paul Symon.  The AAP tells you Symon is "Australia's former commander in Iraq" and that he "says he will take responsiblity for the bungled return of Private Jake Kovco's body" and he did so, according to the AAP, via "emotional evidence".    Australia's ABC informs that poor Symon "was reduced to tears".  If some felt it was performance akin to the one Patrick Walters reported on March 9th of this year (where Symon announced to the world that the corner had been turned and that troops were 'turning the tables') it may go to the fact that he blew his credibility in the eyes of some a long time ago.  It may also have to do with the excessive coverage his dramatics overshadow a genuine response by the family of Jake Kovco.
But let's back up, for those who've forgotten or are late to the discussion, Jake Kovco didn't make it back to Australia as planned.  Instead, Juso Sinanovic was sent to Austrlia -- a problem since he should have been sent to Bosnia (Sinanovic died on April 17th).  As Elizabeth Jackson reported on AM (Australia's ABC), April 27th: "The Body of an Australian soldier killed in a shooting accident last week in Baghdad has been accidentally left behind in Kuwait.  Privated Jake Kovco's body was due to arrive in Melbourne late last night on a flight from Kuwait.  But it didn't."  Jackson interviewed Brendan Nelson (Defence Minister) who declared that Kovco "was at all times appropriately identified by the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Army" which we now know, one of the few things the inquiry has established, that's not true.
In terms of Paul Symon, he was the commander when Kovco died.  He was reponsible.  That he broke down in tears after reading "a statement he had written to his superiors on April 27, explaining how the wrong body was sent back to Australia" says little about his compassion for Jake Kovco (it can be argued he had none, hold on for that), it has to do with the public humilitation of having to publicly have all eyes on him while he read his "Oops" in public.
The delicate flower was weeping for himself. After cry baby dried up his tears, he resumed testifying and went on to refer to Jake Kovco, as Tracy Ong (The Australian) reports (and one of the few to lead with this), as "a piece of cargo."  This caused a genuine objection from Judy Kovco (as opposed to the earlier theatrics from Symon) who shouted, "He's not a piece of cargo.  Don't you dare.  He was my son."
Now remember, this was the grown man who broke down in tears when he had to read his "Oops" to the hearing.  That wasn't about Kovco, the tears.  That was about the humilitation of having to own up to mistakes under his command.  Demonstrating this point further is Symon's response to Judy Kovco which was to describe his reference to Jake Kovco as "a piece of cargo" as being "not well chosen." 
Tara Ravens ( reports on his "Oops" he read to the hearing: "If mistakes are found to be made . . . I accept responsibility for those mistakes.  If mistakes have been made outside . . . I would expect their senior management to accept responsiblity in exactly the same manner.  After all, someone has to take responsiblity for this dreadful mistake."   Yes, someone does.  And despite the April 27 "Oops" where he spoke of "responsibility" it's still not happening.  The AAP notes that, at the hearing, while doing his responsiblity 'talk,' he "implored the federal government to adopt better repatriation policies."  Blah, blah, blah, "human emotions" are messy (this is a summary of Symon's supposed acceptance of responsibility) and we need "technical solutions" blah blah blah.  Referring to the body of Jake Kovco (the first Australian on the ground death in the current war) as "we have here a piece of cargo" doesn't indicate that Symon's lost in "human emotions."
The inquiry also addressed the movement of Kovco's body.  Again, Symon says it wasn't his fault.  Symon states: "When the advice came not to move the body, it had already been moved so I could not turn the clock back".
Yesterday, Soldier 47 gave testimony stating that he had "instructed authorities in Baghdad not to move the body" -- before leaving for Baghdad "immediately."  Though Symon congratulated himself for "common sense and good judgement," there's no indication that he applied either.  Tracy Ong reports: "Brigadier Symon said a request from military policy in Syndey that Kovco's body remain in Baghdad came after it had been moved to the US morgue at the airport at the request of medical staff.  He said he thought he was helping military police by having the body moved to the evacuation point in Kuwait where they could see it sooner."  The evacuation point refers to the private morgue -- soldiers have testified that if the US morgue had been used, the mix up wouldn't have happened and they've criticized what they saw as the cheapness in the decision.  Ong notes Anzac Day and Symon denies that there was a rush to get Kovco home in time for that holiday while admitting "I could see a certain poignancy in a good soldier being returned to the nation on Anzac Day."
Anzac Day is April 25th.  It's a national holiday in Australia, a day of memorial beginning in the 1920s and furthered by the human costs of WWII (it became an official holiday in 1916 to mark the actions of the newly independent Australia in WWI). A certain poignancy in Jake Kovco being returned to Australia on that day?
Does Symon mean poignancy or does he mean PR?

Possibly the remark underscores the PR hopes of Symon who's had his hand in selling and shelling an illegal war.  The hopes of a PR coup (remember, the month prior Symon was -- falsely -- telling reporters a corner had been turned) may be the what added further stress to an already difficult mourning for Jake Kovco's family and friends. 
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