Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 27, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue in Iraq; was a soccer field bombed or did the US military detonate a controlled explosion; the Iraqi oil law moves from the cabinet to the parliament but no one's supposed to notice; 4 US troops are announced dead; a new report reveals women and other minorities are suffering in the US occupied Iraq;
and call it "civil war," a US official says it's okay.
Starting with the subject of war resisters.  Agustin Aguayo was the topic today on KPFA's The Morning Show and Philip Maldari spoke with Jeff Englehart and Tom Cassidy of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Pointing to the common thread between Aguayo, Mark Wilkerson and Ehren Watada, Englehart observed: "These guys have basically opted not to go based on the illegality of the war and the criminality of it."  They then addressed Aguayo's case specifically noting that he was "a medic who actually signed up to help people, not to take lives," that he refused to load his weapon while serving in Iraq (Cassidy: "I'd say that more than anything validates his conscientious objector status."), and how being in Germany added a physical distance (his wife Helga is attempting to raise money to travel to the court-martial).  They discussed how the AWOL process varies from case to case (Cassidy: "It seems like no two AWOL cases are the same" Englehart: "Military justice is an oxymoron."), and how those serving on Aguayo's jury will be "guys who are lifers," "serious hardliners basically determining the fate of his life."  The also addressed the war.
Engelhart: Jeff: Generally I kind of questioned the war from the very outset and I went into Iraq very skeptical.  But it was while I was there I saw some things that really solidified in my mind what I would consider an anti-war sentiment. . . The most important thing I saw that really turned me against the war was the, uh, well two things really.  A lot of the civilian deaths. Basically the way I saw a lot of the civilians deaths, and there were many, they were caused because  of our complicit involvement in the occupation.
Maldari: . . . Complicity with who was killing whom and why?
Jeff: Well anytime you have an occupying force and the strongest military in the world occupying heavily populated urban areas, civilian  deaths occur on any given second in response to small arms attacks from insurgents.  We have to understand, we're using some of the most advanced weaponary in the world, like 50 caliber machine guns, . . .  grenade launchers, you know, 500 lb bombs, 1000 lb bombs, depleted uranium, white phosphorus . . .  All these things take into account.  And you're dropping them essentially on civilian neighborhoods and you're using them in civilian neighborhoods.  And a lot of those civilians deaths I saw were the result of sectarian differences basically what I viewed as our US forces pitting ethnic groups against each other to establish a subservient ethnicity to govern the Iraqis but a lot of those car bombs and suicide bombs that killed a lot of civilians was internal, it was in fact internal, but what I viewed as basically our own involvement was causing it.  And a lot of times in any kind of urban strife just our own sheer power would destroy, you know, vast amounts of urban neighborhoods.  And that's one thing I think we really lost the war in the fact that we lost the hearts and minds and you really can't win the hearts and minds with shock & awe. 
Maldari: Well I interrupted you.  You said you had a second reason as well.
Englehart: Just the dehumanization of Arab culture.  As opposed to what the West would like to view the Arabs as backwards people who need our help. And . .. . Just scratch the surface of any kind of knowledge you would want to gain from the Arab world, you'd find that they are peaceful people, who are very intelligent and can govern themselves without any help. 
Cassidy spoke of the derogatory words "used on a lot of official documents as a term to describe the Iraqi people which is sad because we had a civil rights movement like forty or fifty years ago and we still haven't gotten over just blatantly being racist to other cultures."
Elsa Rassbach (American Voices Abroad Military Projects) joined them in the last five minutes. And, FYI, re: Thomas Cassidy and Jeff Englehart.  They have been speaking on campuses [AnnMarie Cornejo (San Luis Obispo Tribune) reported on a high school appearance last Thursday] and they and other members of Iraq Veterans Against the War are very interested in discussing their experiences.  If you'd like to request a speaker, click here.
To clear up some confusion.  Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months as part of a plea agreement.  Mark Wilkerson was also charged with being AWOL.  Though he was not gone a full month (he was gone September 2nd through September 26th), Agustin Aguayo has been charged with desertion.  Desertion charges come with longer potential sentences than do charges of AWOL.  Aguayo is facing a maximum of seven years imprisonment if he is found guilty in the March 6th court-martial and if he receives the maximum sentence.
Maldari noted these upcoming events for Aguayo:
*6:30 War Memorial Building in San Francisco tonight. (401 Van Ness).  This is a fundraising dinner.
*Tomorrow (Tuesday) 10 to noon City College of San Francisco Diego Rivera Theater, Ocean Campus, presentation of Iraq: The Case For Immediate Withdrawal and The Growing Military Resistance to the War.
* Saturday, in Oakland, 7pm to 2 am a party benefit that will include dee jays and performers (Taiko Ren, Qeen Deelah & Cov Records Artists, ICAF-Oakland, Zazous, Fuga, DJ Zahkee and Qbug.
For more information on the above, click here.
An article in Germany's Der Spiegel, by Mary Wiltenburg, mentions Aguayo but it is not about Aguayo. (About a fifth of the article covers Aguayo.)  Wiltenburg looks at the growing resistance "[o]n military bases across Germany" and, noting there are "no guarantees," reports: In practice, many soldiers who go AWOL overseas follow the advice of the Army's deserter hotline and quietly turn themselves in to Ft. Sill or Ft. Knox.  Ft. Knox spokeswoman Gini Sinclair says most of the 14,000-plus troops who have been processed through the two centers since the invasion of Aghanistan were discharged within two weeks."  Wiltenburg speaks with Michael Sharp ("director of the Military Counseling Network, a non-profitogranisation near Heidelberg that helps American soldiers who are considering leaving the service") and reports: "Last month the group took on 30 new clients, three times its previous average."
Meanwhile, Carolyn Tate and Maizie Harris Jesse (Nevada Appeal) note: "Thirty-nine years ago in March, the horrible incident at Mai Lai in Vietnam occurred.  When Lt. William Calley was court martialed, he insisted he was just following orders.  Remarks were made at the time that he should have disobeyed and refused to kill civilians.  Now they are trying to court martial Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy to Iraq.  Lt. Watada has said he will go to Afghanistan and fight, but not Iraq, because he believes it to be an 'illegal' war (we agree).  Double standard?  Is it his Mai Lai?  Or is he derelict for not following orders?  Think about it."
Yesterday on  The KPFA Evening News, Aaron Glantz reported on the army's decision to refile charges against Ehren Watada last Friday.  Eric Seitz, Watada's civilian attorney, stated, "It is my professional opinion that Lt. Watada cannot be tried again because of the effects of double-jeopardy. . . . Once jeopardy has attached and it clearly did attach in this case when the jury panel was sworn in and when the first witness testified the protection against double-jeopardy applies as a Constitutional matter."
Jeff Paterson (Courage to Resist, Not In Our Name) told Glantz: "The military wanted to avoid showing to all the other people, all the other troops who are facing 2nd and 3rd and 4th deployments to Iraq is that if you don't go to Iraq and you speak out, you'll have a thousand people rally to your defense, pay all your legal bills, Sean Penn will hang out with you  and [you will] go to prison for a few months or do you go to Iraq?  And I think some people would go for that deal of the public support and spending a few months in prison instead of Iraq."
Glantz also noted that Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to seven months last Thursday and that he will be imprisoned until September (unless he is released early).(Glantz' report also aired on yesterday's Free Speech Radio News).
This month is an anniversary as well.  First Coast News' Shannon Ogden noted: "This month is also the anniversary of Camilo Mejia's release from military prison."  Mejia was released on February 15, 2005.  Mejia self-checked out of the military after serving in Iraq and received a one-year sentence.  Odgen spoke with Camilo Mejia who states, "You know, I couldn't really justify, I'd say, 90 percent of the things we did in Iraq."  He also offers that "the entire invasion lacked authority . . . it was not in response to an attack on the US."   Echoing the issue Tate and Harris Jesse raised above, Mejia noted, "In the military, we have a duty to refuse an order that we know is illegal."  He also notes, "Absolutley.  And I do feel like a coward but not for not going back  but for going in the first place.  Because I knew the war was wrong from the beginning."  Odgen mentioned that Mejia will soon begin a lecture tour behind his upcoming autobiography.  That book is Road from ar Ramadi: The Prviate Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia -- due out May 1st, from The New Press, with an afterword written by Chris Hedges.
Aguayo, Watada, Wilkerson and Mejia are part of a movement of resistance with the military that includes others such as Kyle Snyder, Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Darrell Anderson, Ricky Clousing, Aidan Delgado, Joshua Key,  Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Corey Glass, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard 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.
Turning to the topic of violence in Iraq but starting with what's seen as yesterday's attempt on Iraq's Shi'ite vice president Adel Abdul-Mahdi.  On yesterday's The KPFA Evening News,
Mark Mericle noted that yesterday's bombing at the Ministry of Public works raised a number of questions including how the bomb got into the building and when since US forces had walked through with bomb sniffing dogs prior to the start of the conference. 
Bringing the violence up to today, AFP reports that US Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that "civil war" was the term to use in describing Iraq and that deterioation will continue at recent rates barring some ability to halt the chaos "during the 12-18 month time frame" that the crackdown is expected to last.  To repeat, 12 to 18 months. That's "good news" the same way that the 600+ corpses discovered in Baghdad for the month thus far is down because of the 'crackdown'!  (That's a nonsense talking point and we're not even bothering to link to it.)  Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports: "Minority groups in Iraq are facing 'desperate conditions', 'a barrage of attacks' and the threat of being 'eradicated' from their homeland." That's based on a new (PDF format) report from Minority Rights Group International (based in London).  The report, credited to Preti Taneja, is entitled "Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003."  We'll zoom in on women (pp. 5-6):
A further hidden layer is the degenerating situation for women from minorities.  They are subject to rape and harassment from sectarian groups, as well as a continuing toll of domestic violence in their own communities.
Pages 22 and 23 focus soley on women and the section kicks off with the chair of the Iraqi Women's League, Souad Al-Jaziry, noting that the chaos and violence "provide a golden opportunity for the reactionary forces to impose their will, curtail the role of women and violate their rights."  (A topic Rebecca was addressing yesterday.)  Both the attacks and the fear of being attacked result in "a progressive curtailment of freedom in daily life, including not being able to drive or go out without a male relative to accompany them.  In March 2006, Women's Right Assoication (WRA), a local Baghdad NGO, reported that since 2003, the number of women attacked for choosing not to wear head scarves or veils has more than tripled."  Confinement to the home (for many) results in "raising families traumatised by living in fear."  It notes that minority women face increased threats and that they are more likely to be raped, the victims of other violence, and little legal recourse ("funamentalists cite a belief that that rape of an 'unbeliever' constitutes an act of purification and is not unlawful" -- an "unbeliever" can be a Christian, Jew, Baha'is, etc.). Due to the lack of legal action (see Nouri al-Maliki's own rush to judgement last week for just one example) when reported and the social opinions of the victims (who are often blamed for the rape instead of the attacker), most rapes go unreported.  In addition the police maintain that they do not have the resources to pursue the cases.  The example of one 18-year-old is given.  The unnamed woman "was abducted, raped, then forced to wear a belt loaded with explosives and sent to bomb a cleric's office in Khadamiyah, where she turned herself into the police."  Her reward?  Seven years in jail "for her sake" (the rape meant she was less than 'pure').  (FYI, those incidents are among the reasons we do not use the term "suicide bomber.")  The section covers women being kidnapped and forced to convert to other religions by their kidnappers (whom they 'marry' under duress).  This includes Mandaean women as well as Yazidi women.  Women who are 'unbelievers' are often denied employment, education and forced to wear a hijab or other Islamic article of clothing.  The section concludes by noting how weak women's rights are in the Iraqi constitution. 
That's the constitution under Bully Boy.  Women had more rights under the constitution in place before the illegal war. 
The (PDF format) report has other sections and we'll address some of them tomorrow but the general response to these reports by news organizations has been to ignore the section of the continued destruction of women's rights in Iraq so that was our first focus. And, again, that's from the London based Minority Rights Group International.
Chaos and violence continued though there's a bombing in dispute.  Dean Yates and Ibon Villeabeitia (Reuters) note that the US military claims no knowledge of a bombing in Ramadi that is said to have taken place on or near a soccer field and killed 18 people while Iraqiya state TV is broadcasting that the 18 were 12 children and 6 women.  The Telegraph of London cites "an Iraqi defence official" who says that in addition to the 18 dead, 20 boys were wounded but note that the US military stated "a controlled explosion carried out today by American soldiers near a football field in Ramadi had injured 30 people, including nine children."  Noting both explanations, Brian Murphy (AP) observes: "It was unclear if there were two blasts or whether there was confusion over the casualties from a single explosion."
CBS and AP note "a bomb in a plastic bag at a restaurant killed at least three people and injured 13" in Baghdad.  CNN notes that bombing and one at an ice cream shop in Baghdad that resulted in a total of 8 deaths (5 in the ice cream shop alone) as well as a parking lot bombing in Baghdad that claimed one life and left three wounded and a mortar attack in Baghdad that killed two and left six wounded.  Reuters notes a truck bombing in Mosul targeting a police station that killed seven and left 47 wounded, a bombing in al-Baaj that killed four and left six wounded and a roadside bombing in Iraq that killed two people and wounded eleven more.
Reuters notes a college student shot dead in Mosul.
Reuters notes four corpses discovered in Baghdad.
The US military reports: "One 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Soldier was killed and two were wounded in an improvised explosive device attack on their M-1114 HMMWV near Ad Diwaniyah at approximately 10:30 p.m. Feb 26."  And they announced: "On Feb. 27, an MND-B unit struck an improvised explosive device while conducting a route clearance mission southwest of the Iraqi capital, killing three Soldiers and wounding another."
Also in Iraq, the long planned and hoped for (by the US administration) Iraq oil law has cleared the cabinet and now awaits the parliament's response.  As Andy Rowell (Oil Change International) observes, "'Shared economic interest' i code for giving control of Iraqi oil to US and other multinational oil companies.  What many people cannot understand is why the Iraqis are doing it."  Danny Schechter (News Dissector) calls it thusly: "The Iraqi Oil Ministry has made a deal to please the international oil companies which, when all is said and done, we will learn was a powerful motive for this war that was totally unexamined in the depth it deserved."
Antonia Juhasz and Raed Jarrar, who've been following this oil law for some time now, team up (at CounterPunch) to report: "Not every aspect of the law is harmful to Iraq.  However, the current language favors the interests of foreign oil corporations over the economic security and development of Iraq.  The law's key negative components harm Iraq's national sovereignty, financial security, territorial integrity, and democracy.  The new oil law gives foreign corporations access to almost every sector of Iraq's oil and natural gas industry.  This includes service contracts on existing fields that are already being developed and that are managed and operated by the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC).  For fields that have already been discovered, but not yet developed, the proposed law stipulates that INOC will have to be a partner on these contracts.  But for as-yet-undiscovered fields, neither INOC nor private Iraqi companies receive preferences in new exploration and development.  Foreign companies have full access to these contracts."  The two note, as they have before, that there was no need to rush through an oil law and that attempts by the US to push it through will only further inflame the chaos and violence.
Who owns the illegal war?  Speaking with Yanmei Xie on Monday's The KPFA Evening News and Monday's Free Speech Radio NewsCODEPINK's Nancy Kricorian explained why it was important for Democrats to make a strong proposal regardless of whether they can garner enough votes to pass legislation: "Then if it fails, that's one thing.  But if they continue funding the war and voting for these appropriations bills to fund the war the war is no longer Bush's war, it's the Democrats and the Congress' war because they voted to pay for."
Finally, January 29, 2006, ABC's Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt were injured in Iraq.  For Woodruff, it's been a long struggle back (during which Charles Gibson stole the anchor desk from an injured Woodruff and a pregnant Elizabeth Vargas).  Tonight (Tuesday) on ABC (10:00 pm EST), To Iraq and Back focuses on Woodruff's injuries, his recovery,  injuries among veterans serving in Iraq and the level of care they are receiving.

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