Monday, January 08, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Monday, Januray 8, 20007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq, Bully Boy gets ready for primetime schilling, Iraqis doubt the puppet and so do the US State and Defense Departments, The Progressive scores the most important article of the year thus far for independent media (print), and while Joe Biden offers a what-ya-gonna-do shurg, war resisters continue resisting.
Starting with US war resister Ehren Watada who awaits the decision of Lt. Col. John Head, the presiding judge in the pretrial hearing that will outline the parameters for his February 5th court-martial.  Teresa Watanabe (Los Angeles Times) boils the awaited decision down: "Do military officers have the right to publicly voice dissent about their commander in chief and U.S. war policy?  That question highlighted a pretrial hearing last week at Fort Lewis Army base near Seattle involving 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the nation's first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq."  As Mike Hersh (OpEd News) notes, if court-martialed and found guilty of all charges, Ehren Watada faces six years in prison.  Chanan Suarez-Diaz (Socialist Worker) observes that Watada is part of "the movement of military resisters" and notes that "January 21 and 22, Watada's supporters will participate in a 'Citizen's Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq' -- designed to put the war on trial, rather than the brave men and women who resist it.  Among the antiwar figures who will testify are former Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg, Denis Halliday, who resigned in protest as United Nations coordinator of humanitarian aid in Iraq; and international law expert Richard Falk."
Meanwhile, Kyle Snyder, another US war resister, continues speaking out and resisting around the United States.  In a co-authored post with Vietnam war resister Gerry Condon (Soldier Say No!), Snyder looks back at 2006 -- a year that for him started in Canada, found him returning to the US to turn himself in October and then self-checking out again after the US military again went back on their word --  and notes that Synder continues to speak out, asks that you contact General William McCoy, Jr. and demand the military discharge Snyder -- 573-596-0131; or, Public Affairs Office, 573-563-4013; fax: 573-563-4012, e-mail with the message: "Discharge Kyle Snyder with No Punishment."
Snyder and Watada are part of a movement of resistance to the illegal war within the military that also includes Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Joshua Key, Ivan Brobeck, Camilo Meija, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Jeremy Hinzman, Corey Glass, Patrick Hart, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske and Kevin Benderman. In total, thirty-eight US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.
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 this month.
As resistance to the war mounts throughout the country and the world, an embarrassing bit of news slips out -- embarrasing to the US administration which has repeatedly denied that oil was any factor in the decision to wage illegal war.  On Sunday, Danny Fortson, Andrew Murray-Watson and Tim Webb (Independent of London) reported on the latest 'plan' for Iraq: "Iraqi's massive oil reserves, the thid-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.  The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Indpendent on Sunday.  It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to estract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.  The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil."  Today on KPFA's The Morning Show (first newsbreak in the 2nd hour, anchored by Aileen Alfandary), Antonia Juhasz (author of The BU$H Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time) addressed the legislation:
It's good for the oil companies because Iraq still owns it's own oil and therefore the government bears the risk but every other function has been privatized and turned over to the foreign cormpanies and as far as Exxon, Chrevon and Conoco are concerned that will be them, and they're given a leg up in the competition with the presence of 1500,000 American troops occupying Iraq. . . . Iraq's Union of Oil Unions have stated clearly that they do not want privatization they do not want this oil law.  What they want is democracy and the opportunity for Iraqis to devise a new oil plan for themselves.
Turning from legislation news to news of the puppet, this weekend, Nouri al-Maliki announced an 'answer' to the current civil war (apparently discovered at a War Hawks support group): CRACKDOWN.  Now the 'crackdown' started in June and has continued throughout achieving nothing but increased violence (was that the goal?).  Al Jazeera reports that Mahmoud al-Mashhadani ("the outspoken Sunni Arab speaker of the Iraqi parliament) responded to al-Maliki's plan with, "Al-Maliki has no authority under the constitution to enforce security plans unless approved by the parliament.  After the suspension of the martial law, which empowers al-Maliki with extraordinary executive powers, he is in no position to implement security planss that were not approved beforehand by the parliament."
Steve Negus (Financial Times of London) reports al-Maliki describes phase XIV of the crackdown as "an open-ended operation".
As the puppet talks down Never Ending Crackdown in the Capital, the one pulling his strings continues attempting to pass escalation off as "surge."  Mark Tran (Guardian of London) reports that the "plan" will include "benchmarks" and that Bully Boy faces a skeptical US public.  Finding the 'plan' has been like casting Scarlett O'Hara; however, Bully Boy is confirmed to perform Wednesday night at 9:00 pm EST on most major networks as he unveils the "plan."  Sunday, Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) noted the "growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra toops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country" which appears to include officials from the US Departments of Defense and State who "doubt that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of making the necessary reforms, given its track record of promising but not delivering since taking power in May and despite Maliki's assurances in a speech" on Saturday "that he would hold Iraqis accountable for implementing a new Baghdad security plan."
Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers) interviewed Lt. General Raymond Odierno who is now "the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq" for an article that ran Sunday and Youssef observes in that of his remarks on that escalation wouldn't be enough: "By echoing his predecessor, Odierno's comments raised concerns in both Washingtion and Iraq that the U.S. war effort is exhausting old tactics that haven't worked.  Indeed, many Iraqis do not trust that a new Baghdad security plan can change their circumstances because the U.S. and Iraqi government have touted at least five such plans before, all of which failed to stop the violence." 
As Bully Boy prepares for his primetime strut on Wednesday, the Democrats in the US Congress make some noises on opposing sending more US troops to fight a lost and illegal war.  Tom Baldwin and Stephen Farrell (Times of London) observe: "The new Democratic leadership of Congress has for the first time given explicit warning that it might deny funding for up to 20,000 additional troops in Iraq, which President Bush is expected to order this week.  Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said the Democrats would refuse to give him 'a blank cheque with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.  If the President choose to escalate the war . . . in his budget request, he is going to have justify it and this is new for him."
While US Speaker of the House Pelosi's remarks sound strong, US Senator Joe Biden, appearing Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press (where he also announced he was running for the 2008 Democratic nominee for president) responded to host Tim Russerts question of, "If President Bush calls for more American troops to Iraq, the so-called surge, Joe Biden will say . . ." to which -- in a vote non-getter -- Biden responded, "No.  But there's not much I can do about it.  Not much anybody can do about it. . . . If he surges another 20, 30, or whatever number he's going to, into Baghdad, it'll be a tragic mistake, in my view, but, as a practical matter, there's no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop'."
And the Biden campaign rounds the corner with . . . a limp and appears to ask, "If Pelosi won't give you a blank check, will you take my VISA?"  Which is the sort of non-stand that Sunsara Taylor (World Can't Waitnotes (at CounterPunch) "is really saying that the only people who can set political terms in this country are George Bush's neo-cons and Christian fascists and that everyone else has to find their place within these terms.  But this must not be accepted.  Just as it did during [Tricy Dick] Nixon's day, it will take political struggle breaking free of these terms and coming up from below to create a situation where those in power are compelled to change".  Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) also overcomes Biden's whimper by observing quite plainly, "The occupation has always fuelled the insurgency.  More US troops means more resistance."  Cockburn also (rightly) observes, "The US government has shown an extraordinary inability to learn any lessons from its failures in Iraq." Or, as Ramzy Baroud (Asia Times) put it, "The past three and a half years of utter failure in Iraq should have been the sign any rational leader would need to change course; but few ever argued that the president is an icon of leadership or even-headedness; thus the 'new' Iraq strategy."
AFP reports that a bomb (hidden under a car) "in a market at Zafaraniyah in south Baghdad" claimed three lives. Muhieddin Rashad (AP) reports "a roadside bomb wounded three policemen in a southeastern seation of the Iraqi capital".  Reuters notes two police officers killed and three wounded in Ramadi by a "suicide truck bomber" while, in Baghdad, a roadside bomb wounded three people.
Reuters states that 4 people were shot dead in an attack on a bus (they base this on government sources -- an eyewitness earlier told Reuters the number was higher) in Baghdad and that a family "packing their furniture" were attacked in Baghdad and 6 were shot dead. AFP reports four people shot dead in Baquba. On the bus attack, the BBC says it was at least nine killed (and Reuters TV footage currently says 15)
Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports that, by official Iraq government statistics (released by the Iraqi Health Ministry), "In the first six months of last year, 5,640 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed, but that number more than tripled to 17,310 in the latter half of the year, according to data provided by a Health Ministry official with direct knowledge of the statistics.  The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said those numbers remained incomplete, suggesting the final tally of violent deaths could be higher."
Despite the pronounced, undeniable failure of the Iraq war, Gillian Bradford (ABC's PM) reports that Alexander Downer (Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister) has declared that he's all for escalation and that he can play Mean Girls quite well: ""It's really a matter for the generals and the generals on the ground [to escalate or not to].  They are in a much better position to make those judgements than either I or, for that matter, dare I say it, Nancy Pelosi, or whoever it may be."  Someone tell Alex that somehwere in his third or fourth aside, the "SNAP" was lost before he got to Nancy Pelosi's name.  While Lexie works on his Joan Collins impersonation, the reality is that in a democracy, generals do not dictate policy.  Civilian control of the military is embedded in democracies.  It may help Lexie sleep at night (and provide more time for him to develop his Joan Collins impersonation) but it's really not in his job description to turn over decision power to the military.
On Saturday, Ruth noted David Harris' powerful article on Ron Kovic ("Ask A Marine," Rolling Stone, July 19, 1973). Already this year, an article emerges that may be the most powerful of 2007 (though, granted, with the state of independent media today, it may maintain that honor by default).  Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg's "Homecoming Nightmares" appears in the January 2007 issue of The Progressive (not yet available online, pages 21 through 22) and takes a look at the experiences of several who have served in Iraq.  This is from the opening of her article:
Hart Viges, thirty, served with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq.  "Anyone who thinks they are going to be treated as heroes or valuable people in the military, they're wrong," he says.  "They're property.  You're property of the United States government." 
Even though Hart came home to Texas in January 2004, he still hasn't totally left Iraq. 
"I don't know how many civilians we killed, I don't know how many enemy we killed," says Hart, remembering when he and fellow soldiers were ordered to fire on all taxicabs in Samawa.  "I just don't know.  I just don't know." 
But at a water treatment plant outside Baghdad, Hart caught a man carrying explosives. 
"I look into his eyes and his face," he says.  "He's not a boogeyman, not a monster.  He's scared and confused but recruited like me."
The man escaped from Hart.  During the Americans' hunt for him, an Iraiq told them that his neighbors said something bad about Americans.  They went to the hut and searched everything.  All they found, Hart said, was a family and a small .22 caliber pistol.  They arrested two young men. 
"The mother was trying to kiss my feet, my cheek, crying," Hart recalls. "I just stood there, paralyzed.  I just couldn't console her.  I told my sergeant, 'These aren't the guys.'  He said, 'Don't worry.  They're all bad guys.'"
After Hart came home from Iraq in 2004, he had an emotional explosion and finally told his platoon sergeant, "I can't pull the trigger."  His sergeant sent him to a chaplain who told him about conscientious objection.  Hart applied.  He was approved later that year and honorably discharged.
Hart now works in Texas as a waiter and peace activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War.  But Iraq has still found him in his Austin home.
Everyday noises, sights, and smells are now deadly threats.  The sound of a nail gun makes Hart jump behind trash cans for cover.  Headlights flashing in his rearview mirror suddenly become flares from a roadside bomb.
As veterans continue to return with physical and/or mental injuries, many Iraqis look for somewhere, anywhere, else to live.   The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced today it was launching: "a $60 million appeal to fund its work over the next 12 months for hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people affected by the conflict in Iraq.  The funds will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself."  The appeal is being made, in part, due to the fact that the UNHCR operated, from the start of the illegal war until last year, "on the assumption that the domestic situation would stabilise and hundreds of thousands of previously displaced Iraqis would soon be able to go home."  The UNHCR, Antonio Guterres, "estimates there are at least 1.6 million Iraqis displaced internally, and up to 1.8 million in neighboring states, particularly Syria and Jordan."
In the United States, former US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been nominated by the Bully Boy to be the new US envoy to the UN.  AFP quotes Condi Rice noting that "[t]he past year shown very clearly how important the UN is for America and the world" which could be the closest admission No-one-could-have-guessed-Condi ever makes to an administration failure.  ("The past year" would include the inept 'work' done by John Bolton in the post Khalilzad is now nominated for.) Ryan Crocker will move from US ambassador to Pakistan to replace Khalilzad as US ambassador to Iraq.
The post is sometimes referred to as the "US ambassador to Baghdad"; however, "the US ambassador to the heavily fortified Green Zone's heavily fortified US embassy."  Speaking last Thursday with Nora Barrows-Friedman on KPFA's Flashpoints, Dahr Jamail noted of the embassy/fortress, "This was a $572 million contract that was awarded to a very corrupt . . . Kuwaiti construction firm with very direct ties to the Bush administration and this is an embassy that's going to have room for between 3 and 8,000 government employees, it has its own school . . . I don't think we should expect any Iraqi kids at this school, it has the largest swimming pool in the country, yoga studios, barbershops, beauty shops, its own water plant, its own electricity plant, it has apartment buildings.  And when it's complete, it will be, it's 21 buildings and the area will be the size of the Vatican City.  So that's the so-called embassy that's being built in Iraq so if we talk about when are we going to withdraw troops and why aren't the Democrats talking about withdrawal, this sort of thing, instead why is there talk of a 'surge'?  It's because we . . . just need look no further than the physical evidence on the ground, augmented by the US policy like the National Security Strategy and the Quadrennial Defense Review Report -- all of these signs point towards permanent occupation of Iraq just like we have in Germany." 
On the embassy/fortress/stockade, Guy Dinmore (Financial Times of London) notes that it's called "Fortress Baghdad" and resulted in "arguments inside the State Department amid fears that the overwhelming diplomatic presence will perpetuate a sense of US occupation and become a focus of local anger."  That's called "understatement."  Dinmore reports that, "Officials are also questioning why the Bush administration is sending more civilians into a deteriorating war zone, and the effectiveness of the work they can do.  The embassy compound being bulit inside Baghdad's Green Zone covers 104, acres, making it six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York.  A city within a city for more than 1,000 people, it will have its own water, sewers and electricity, six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and some walls 15 feet thick."
Finally, in the United State, Tom Lochner (Contra Costa Times) reports: "Creatores of a hillside monument of crosses outside the Lafayette BART station began to put names on them Sunday while supporters, including mothers of fallen soldiers in Iraq, turned the gathering into an impromptu memorial service for the war dead.  'This memorial is a sacred place,' said Nadia McCaffrey of Tracy, the mother of Army Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, killed in Balad, Iraq, on June 22, 2004.  'Each one of those crosses has a name.'"
Programming heads up, on  WBAI tonight (airwaves in the NYC area, online everywhere) and time given is EST:
Monday, January 8, 9-11pm

Member theater companies of THAW (Theatres Against War) perform an evening of dramatic readings curated by Cynthia Croot.

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