Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, December 19, 2006.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq; an international policy think tank in London delivers a devestating evaluation on the failures of Tony Blair's leadership; Ehren Watada's mother speaks out on  WBAI's Law and Disorder to raise awareness of her son and his upcoming court-martial scheduled to begin in February; bank robbers in Baghdad make off with the equivalen of nearly a million dollars; and Harry Reid and his favored 'surge' are rightly called out.
Starting in England where Tony Blair is coming under renewed criticism.  Chatham House is a London based think tank that was created in 1920 which has just released a [PDF format] report grading the British prime minister's performance.  Sophie Walker (Reuters) reports  that Britian's Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, has termed the report "ridiculously wrong."  Which indicates how correct it is. Victor Bulmer-Thomas ("OBE . . . Director at Chatham House since April 2001") is the author of the report.
Tracing the emergence of Blair as Poodle to Bully Boy, the report examines the post 9-11 period and notes that the prisoners held in the gulag of Guantanamo Bay "barely raised an eyebrow in British government circles" nor did Bully Boy's State of the Union address (January 2002) prompt a reaction from Blair despite Bully Boy labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as part of the so-called 'axis of evil' when "the United Kingdom had diplomatic relations with the last two and there was no link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the atrocities of 9/11."  
The report notes that "by mid-2002 Tony Blair had concluded that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq and that Britain needed to be a partner in this excercise.  The British role was therefore to provide diplomatic cover and to enrol allies in Europe and elsewhere as far as possible.  This was without a shadow of doubt the defining moment of Blair's foreign policy -- indeed the defining moment of his whole premiership.  It will shape his legacy -- for better or for worse -- for many years to come."
The report further notes: "The problem Blair faced was not how to maintain European unity in the face of a threatened US pre-emptive war. . . . . Instead, the problem was how to obtain United Nations approval for a war of choice when NATO intervention was ruled out by French and German opposition.  A case for human intervention could have been made, but that was unlikely to command support in the UN Security Council and could have provked a Russian or even Chinese veto.  Instead, in close cooperation with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the decision was made to emphasize the need to eliminate Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."
The report offers that, "in hindsight," the illegal war "was a terrible mistake" and that "the jury is still out" whether or not that call could have been made in real time because that depends upon how much Tony Blair "knew the claims about WMD were overblown or even fabricated."  But diplomatic means were ignored ("Hans Blix was calling for more time for the UN weapons inspectors") and there was no threat to England ("even if Saddam Hussein had WMD, they were not directed at the United Kingdom").  Reviewing other areas, the Middle East in general and Afghanistan, Chatam House's report concludes that there has been no 'reward' to England for Blair's decision to throw his lot in with the Bully Boy: "The root failure, however, has been the inability to influence the Bush administration in any significant way despite the sacrifice -- military, political and financial - the the United Kingdom has made. . . . Tony Blair has learnt the hard way that loyalty in international politics counts for very little."
The BBC reports that Tony Blair has rejected the conclusions of the report; however, his comments demonstrate that he's not read it (it's only six pages) -- Blair says that the US needs to be a partner and the report doesn't question that.  The report does note the importance of the European Union, the need to respect allies and the fact that Iraq ("disaster") resulted, for the British, from a failure to question (publicly) baseless lcimas and that working with the US did not require (and the report concludes will not in the future) "unconditional support for US initiatives."  Blair, who will be out of office shortly, makes some self-serving claims about the Middle East and the report's already addressed that.
The report's release comes four days after Colin Brown and Andy McSmith (Independent of London) broke the news on the recently disclosed 2004 testimony of Carne Ross to the Butler Inquiry which stated that Hussein being "effectively contained" was a common view "among British officials" all the way up to the illegal war and that an invasion would result in "chaos" for Iraq (". . . Iraq would collapse into chaos") and that there was no threat "of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material".  All was known and all was ignored by Tony Blair who wanted the same illegal war of choice that the Bully Boy did. 
Colin Brown and Andy McSmith published their report of the revelations on December 15th.  To date, the New York Times has refused to cover or note them -- even at their website by posting either the AP or Reuters article.  The blackout on the news is so huge that even in Sabrina Tavernise's lengthy open mouthed kiss to Tony Blair (ran in Monday's paper) there was no time to note Carne Ross' previously classified testimony.
Tavernise 'report' only grows more laughable today as BBC News' Andrew North weighs in on the photo-op and notes that both Blair and puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki "looked like they were on auto-pilot, saying much of the same things they've said before."
North observes: "But as on previous trips, Mr Blair did not really visit Baghdad.  He stopped off for three hours on another planet called the Green Zone, the the sprawling fortress housing the US and British embassies and most Iraqi government ministries. Even in this maze of razor wire and concrete-walled compounds, it is not totally safe. Mortars often rain down. Mr Maliki's residence is ringed by 20ft-high blast barriers and gun towers. Mr Blair arrived with an impressive army of gun-toting bodyguards in armoured vehicles bristling with high-tech electronic equipment. But life in the Green Zone bears no relation to the unpredictable chaos of Baghdad beyond - the Red Zone as it is known by Green Zone residents."
Tavernise's problematic 'report' utilized White House talking points ("the way forward in Iraq") as though they were her own, failed to note Sunday's mass kidnapping utilized 'security vehicles' that were also used by Iraq's security forces, and somehow failed to report that on Sunday (the day she was 'reporting' on), the US military had announced the death of three US soldiers. But didn't she manage to quote Tony Blair.  Good stenography.  Lousy reporting.
In the United States, the Pentagon releases its congressionally mandated accounting.  CNN reports the Pentagon's summary concludes that militas are a greater threat in Iraq than is the mythical al Qaeda. Interviewed yesterday by Nora Barrows-Friedman on  KPFA's Flashpoints, journalist Robert Fisk made sport of the inflated claims of an al Qaeda led resistance within Iraq.  [Rebecca discusses the appearance here.]  However, for the Pentagon, this is a belated but huge step in truth telling. Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reports that the Pentagon announced "that the violence in Iraq soared this fall to its highest level on record" and that this occurs "despite increased troop levels -- including a higher-than-anticipated U.S. force level of 140,000 troops".
The troop increase resulted from the so-called 'crackdown' on Baghdad that began in June and never ended -- nor did it ever suceed in lowering the violence -- a fact proven by the Pentagon's own report.  However, despite this reality, US Senator Harry Reid, who is expected to become the Senate Majority Leader next month, has given his okay for a 'surge' in troop level with the laughable qualifier that it was only "two or three months."  Those qualifiers fly out the window very quickly -- the raised level of troops for the 'crackdown' were also supposed to be short-term.
The alternative will likely be the Iraq-ization of Iraq that will follow the same patterns of the Vietnamization of Vietnam as outlined by John Graham (Common Dreams). But the US Congress shows little desire to utilize their power of the purse and deny funding for the illegal war. [The White House budget director, Rob Portman, announced today that the finanical costs on the part of the US for the illegal war will be greater than $110 billion.]
CODEPINK and Gold Star Families for Peace are among the groups calling for actions in DC next month, January 27th through 29th, to demand the new Congress live up to the peace mandate they were voted in on.
Among the violence today in Iraq was an armed heist.  CNN reports that approximately 20 men, utilizing four vehicles, made off with the US equivalent of nearly one million dollars while some "were dressed in camouflage uniforms similar to Iraqi Security Forces' uniforms".  Christopher Torchia (AP) reports that they "drove up to the Zuwiyah Bank i Baghdad's Karradah neighborhood and fired automatic weapons in the air, then handcuffed guards and robbed accountants" (he also notes that 26 of the people abducted in the mass kidnapping at the Iraqi Red Crescent's Baghdad offices on Sunday have been released -- 16 are still unknown and the total number of those kidnapped Sunday is 42.)
Reuters report that a roadside bomb in Kirkuk left seven police officers wounded while, in Baghdad, a car bomb took one life and left three wounded. CBS and AP report at bombing "at a medical facility flying a Red Crescent flag" in Baghdad.  Mohammed al Awsy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a mortar attack "west of baqouba" that killed 3 children and left eight more injured. Christopher Torchia (AP) notes two dead in Baghdad and seven wounded from a mortar attack while two died from a roadside bomb.
Mohammed al Awsy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that 2 police officers were shot dead in Baquba. Christopher Torchia (AP) notes that a college sudent was shot dead in Mosul.
Reuters reports that four corpses were discovered in Mosul, 12 corpses were discovered in Baquba. Mohammed al Awsy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that 53 corpses were discovered in Baghdad (and offers a very thorough breakdown of who was found where within the capital), that Mitashar al Sudami's corpse was also discovered after the actor was "kidnapped yesterday" and that eight corpses were discovered in al Tahreer.
As the violence and chaos continues, 'normal' is a dream.  Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily (IPS) examine the issue of children attending school in a war zone and find that "attendance rates for the new school year, which started Sep. 20, are at an all-time low" -- while approximately 75% of Iraqi children were attending schools in 2005, the figure has now dropped to 30 percent.  Along with falling attendance is falling literacy rates (and Iraq had one of the highest rates of literacy in the Middle East prior to the illegal war).  Jamail and al-Fadhily note Um Suthir who explains that her children are in danger just traveling to school and another Iraqi who explains, "We are now living in a factory building, and there is no school near our shelter.  I've had to ask for my oldest boy to help cover expenses by working as a cleaner at a mechanic's shop nearby."
No 'justice,' no 'liberation,' no safety and even the area Iraqi's long taken pride in (their high levels of literacy) are now falling as the illegal war drags on.  In peace news, Carolyn Ho, mother of Ehren Watada, was interviewed by Dalia Hashad, Michael Smith, and Michael Ratner on WBAI's Law and Disorder Monday. Ehren Watada is the first US officer to refuse publicly to deploy to Iraq.  Ho spoke of being "stunned" on January 1, 2006, when her son told her of his decision.  Dalia Hashad asked, "You were upset with your son because he didn't want to go to war?"  Ho replied, "Well, you know, all I could think of was I just did not want him to be vilified in the press.  All I could see was this was my son trying to face the military-industrial complex.  It was just totally overwhelming and I just was not prepared for it.  It was days that I had to think through this. It was just feelings of grief, of anger that he was doing this to himself."
Ho has spoken with member of Congress and hasn't been overwhelmed by their response.  She noted, "I feel that my son's case is not seperate and apart from the legislative branch."  And though Congress and the military wishes to act as though it's as cut and dry as her son just refusing an order, Ho feels "this government is going to have to face reality." 
Ehren Watada knows the war is illegal and the resaon for the refusal to deploy is not a secondary issue but the primary one in his case -- whether the military or the US Congress wants to admit it.  Michael Ratner revealed that Eric Seitz' attorney has spoken with him about the prospect of Ratner testifying at Watada's February court-martial.
Dalia Hashad raised the issue of Watada's role in "the larger anti-war movement" and Ho offered, "I think that he holds the banner as do all the other refusenics.  I think that people sometimes say that he is a part of it and not the other way around but I think it needs to be perceived in the  broader context and that with his victory, I believe truly that it will be a victory for the people and for the movement because the movement progresses with each case and each victory is something that brings us further along the line.  I think that he does not operate in a vacuum, that he has been inspired by others that went before him and he will be an inspiration for other to follow."
Watada is a part of a resistance movement within the military that includes Kyle Snyder, Darrell Anderson, Joshua Key, Ivan Brobeck, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Patrick Hart, Clifford Cornell, Agustin Aguayo, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, and Kevin Benderman. Those are some of the war resisters who have gone public and over thirty US war resisters are currently in Canada attempting to be legally recognized.
Information on war resistance within the military can be found at Center on Conscience & War, The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline, and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Appeal for Redress is collecting signatures of active duty service members calling on Congress to bring the troops home -- the petition will be delivered to Congress next month.
Ehren Watada spoke with Robert Shikina (Honolulu Star -Bulletin whose Gregg Kakesako is among the reporters subpeoned by the prosecution to testify in the February court-martial).
"It'll all be over pretty soon.  In one way or another, it'll all be over," Watada told Shikina.  "Now at least I know I have a date and it's set.  And I know after that point, one way or another, it's going to end."  Though the court-martial is due to begin in February, pre-trial motions start January 4th.  Watada and Ann Wright (retired US army colonel, retired US State Department official) will speak at 7:00 p.. tonight at the Church of the Crossroads, 1212 University Ave, in Honolulu. 
Meanwhile, in England, new developments emerge in the inquiry into the 2003 death of a British soldier.  Steve Roberts died March 24, 2003 in Iraq.  Michael Evans (Times of London) reports that at an inquest into Roberts' death (classified under the euphimism "friendly fire"), Osfordshire's assistant deputy coroner, Andrew Walker, testified, "To send soldiers into a combat zone without the appropriate basic equipment is, in my view, unforgiveable and inexcuseable and represents a breach of trust that the soldiers have in those in government."  Last week, as reported by Yorkshire Post Today, the inquest heard a tape recording that Steve Roberts had intended to be a letter to his wife, Samantha Roberts, where he noted, "Kit we're being told we are going to get, we're not.  It's disheartening because we know we're going to have to go to war without the correct equipment."  Samantha Roberts' reaction to the latest development in her husband's inquest, "The coroner found failing in training and command in the run-up to and after the shooting, but the single most important factor was the lack of enhanced body armour.  If Steve had had that he would be with us today."
Returning to the issue of the US Congress funding the war, Cindy Sheehan (writing at BuzzFlash) wonders where Democratic Congress members such as Sherrod Brown believe that the monies for the domestic programs they're advocating will come from if the illegal war continues to be funded?  Noting that, the Harry Reid's 'surge' and more,  Alexander Cockburn (CounterPunch) analyzes the work of the New York Times war pornographer Michael Gordon:  "Indeed no reporter has played a more assiduous role in fostering this 'surge' option than Gordon, a man who somehow skipped free of the misreporting charges that finally caught up with his former colleague Judith miller, even though he shared a byline with Miller in the very worst report, the claim that aluminum tubes were hard evidence of Saddam's WMD program.  In the past months, in the Times and on CNN Gordon has been laying down a propaganda barrage against speedy withdrawal and for a hike in US troop numbers in Iraq.  When [John] Murtha ran for the House majority leadership position, the New York Times front-paged two stories by Gordon attacking Murtha's advocacy of rapid withdrawal, and promoting a troop increase."

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