Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, April 17, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, the Iraqi refugee crisis receives some attention in Geneva, claims are bandied all around regarding events of violence in Iraq, Robert Gates got a goody bag and wants to share and Americans not only think the illegal war was not worth it, the also think it is "lost."
Starting with war resister news, Ehren Watada's father, Bob Watada, shared Saturday of how his son's struggle has inspired him.  Ehren Watada, in June 2006, became the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq.  In February 2006, his court-martial ended a mistrial and his next court-martial is scheduled for July 16th.  Brian Charlton (AP) reports that Bob Watada spoke Saturday at a Honolulu meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists where he explained, "It was because of him that I've gone out and educated myself."  Charlton notes the stroke Rosa Sakanishi (Ehren's step-mother) suffered.  That was in January at the rally in DC, shortly after Bob Watada spoke.  Ann Wright managed to catch Sakanishi as she was falling.

There are many lessons to be learned from Watada and other war resisters.  Ehren Watada  is part of a movement of war resistance within the military that also includes Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Justin Colby, Camilo Mejia, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson,  Kyle Snyder , Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Joshua Key, Ricky Clousing, Mark Wilkerson, Agustin Aguayo, Camilo Mejia,  Patrick Hart, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Jeremy Hinzman, Stephen Funk, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Katherine Jashinski, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake 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.
Al Jazeera reports on Abu Fares who left Iraq with his family but returned after the start of the illegal war in 2003 which he felt was cause for hope and return (the disposing of Saddam Hussein) only to discover that "Everything was chaos.  We spent days with no water or electricity.  I had to write my will every time I wanted to leave the house."  The family has now returned to Iran with no plans to return to Iraq.  The issue of refugees is one that Dahr Jamail and Ali al Fadhilly have reported on at length for IPS and Dahr has also reported on it frequently for Flashpoints.  Last Tuesday, on Flashpoints, Dahr spoke with Emily Howard about the refugee problem and the refusal to address it by it the US.  He noted that those fortunate enough to afford to leave (buying their way out of arrests frequently) become internal refugees (wandering or living in refugee tents) or else the become external refugees who leave the country.  Friday on KPFA's The Morning Show, Dahr spoke with Andrea Lewis and Aaron Glantz about the Iraqi refugees who had gone to Syria and noted, "I have updated numbers from meeting with Sybella Wilkes yesterday who is the UNHCR regional public information officer.  And according to UNHCR,  there are, there's 1.2 million is the minimum estimate they have in Syria alone.  The governement of Syria, who UNHCR admitted probably has more accurate figures than they do, estimates there's between 1.4 and 1.5 million Iraqi refugees here, hundreds of thousands of those are Shia as well.  I think people in the US are led to believe that it's only the Sunni population that's leaving and, while they are the majority, it's important to note that there's a giant number and growing number of Shia up here in Syria as well.  But really the situation is really -- even just those numbers, as if they're not staggering enough by themselves -- the situation here is UNHCR has only actually registered approximately 70,000 of these people.  So that means these are only the 70,000 that literally have so little of anything that they have to literally go there for food and in some way to find some housing.  So the crisis is certainly going to grow  exponentially as these other Iraqis here, and I have met with many of them, are living on their savings right now.  What are they going to do when their savings run out?   Syria right now has  approximately a 20 to 25% unemployment rate.  Add in another between 1.2 to 1.5 million Iraqis, so already that figure is too low.  And as time persists, of course, the situation will worsen.  And we have between 30 and 50,000 more Iraqis coming into Syria alone every single month." [Those unable to listen to the broadcast can click here for that and other remarks by Dahr.] 
Today the United Nations held a conference in Geneva on the subject of the refugee crisis.  BBC reports that Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, "urged Iraq's neighbours not to close their borders to refugees, and states further afield to do more to help tackle the humanitarian crisis."  Sephanie Nebehay (Reuters) reports that the appeal includes a request "for international aid for nearly 4 million Iraqis".  The United Nations states: "Hundres of concerned participants from governments, aid organization and United Nations bodies gathered in Geneva today" and quotes UNHCR head Antonio Guterres citing a "moral imperative" which requires the actions of "[a]ll of us -- representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society".  Meanwhile Nicholas Keung (Toronto Star) reports: "The UN has raised only half of its $60 million goal for 2007, a figure that includes $2.5 million pledged by Canada."  Deutsche Welle notes, "Germany's Department of Foreign Affairs had announced on Monday that it would make 2.2 million euros in aid available to Iraqi refugees and displaced persons."  IRIN notes that the conference continues tomorrow
From refugees to the puppet government that created (or assisted the US government in creating) the problem.  On the heels of Moqtada al-Sadr's block exiting their six minister position in the coalition Nouri al-Maliki cobbled together and filled well after the Consitutionally mandated deadline, the US government launches a global push to shore up support for their puppet.  Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reports that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be "using potential U.S. arms sales and other military assistance" to shore up support in the Middle East for al-Maliki.  David S. Cloud (New York Times) notes that Gates' trip will include encouraging "leaders to back Iraq's government and to put aside their doubts about Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's ability to curtail sectarian violence". Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) informs that "Defense Department officials acknowledge that the support for Maliki in Sunni-dominated nations is not as firm as they would like."  Or at all.  Fatih Abdulsalam (Azzaman via WatchingAmerica) predicts that, when the US does withdraw from Iraq, "the current government -- if it still exists at the time, God forbid -- it would certain encounter its political death, both nationally and internationally, especially if it's notion of using extreme repression to further the national reconciliation process remains unchanged.  The problem is not in any of these options, but al-Maliki himself and his delusional promises of building a military force capable of action as an alternative to the Americans, without purging the existing force of sectarian elements."
The attempts to shore up  support for the puppet government outside the US comes as Gary Langer (ABC News) reports on the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll which finds: "A bare majority of the Americans for the first time believe the United States will lose the war in Iraq, and a new high -- two-thirds -- say the war was not worth fighting."  Possibly Robert Gates will next take his goody bag house to house throughout the US?
Turning to US Congressional news . . .  Cloy Richards served in Iraq and suffers from PTSD.  His mother is Tina Richards. Eric Leaver (Foreign Policy in Focus) sums up the event that introduced many people to Tina Richards: "Instead, the biggest brawl the public saw was between House Appropriations committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and the mother of a Marine and an anti-war activist, Tina Richards.  Responding from Richard's plea to stop the war Obey screamed, "We don't have the votes."  But it was never clear that Obey and others were in fact seeking the votes to end the war.  Instead they were seeking the votes for what ended up being in a weak compromise."  As noted by Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!), "Tina Richards was arrested on Monday outside the office of Nancy Pelosi while calling on the House Speaker to stop funding the war."  After the press attention following Obey's public meltdown, Nancy Pelosi stated she wanted to meet with Tina Richards but has yet to make time for such a meeting.  Stacy Bannerman (Military Families Speak Out) notes that Congress owns the war having gone with "stay the course" and notes what it look liked up close to see even those Congress members opposed to the war cave: "When members were 'released' to vote for the supplemental funding bill, the 'Out of Iraq' Caucus became the 'Stay in Iraq' caucus.  New branding materials are in the works.  When the people that got elected on a strong anti-war platform voted to continue the war, they broke a sacred trust with their constituents.  Keith Ellison (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA) et. al, clean out your desks and return the keys to your office.  Immediately.  When Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), a long-time, outspoken opponent of the war, cannot look me in the face as he passes by on his way to vote, I know that he knows that what he's doing is wrong.  The rationalizations for continuing to fund the war under the patently false guise of 'supporting the troops' are just a different page from the same book that was used to build the case for war."
In claims news today, a Sunday raid in Baghdad's al-Amil neighborhood conducted by US forces is straying from the approved US military narrative.  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reports today that eye witnesses say that the US military randomly opened fire, killining indiscriminately and quoted one Iraqi stating: "People were sleeping when the U.S. forces raided the area.  Shooting started and people came out to see what happened.  Two were killed in the shooting.  A mother and her son came out to see what happened and they were also killed during the shooting.  So we have four killed and two others wounded."  At some point the US military may launch an investigation into the event.  Like the investigations into the helicopter crashes, they will, no doubt, drag on and on.  However, remember this is the claims department section, the US military has completed an investigation in less than 24 hours and, they announce, they have cleared themselves as they maintain that those killed in Ramadi yesterday "were not Iraqi policemen as originally reported."  In other claims, CNN reports a group has posted online the assertion that they killed 20 Iraqi security forces they kidnapped on Saturday in Baghdad.  And, finally, AP reports that a group thought to be (or claimed to be) linked to al Qaeda has "claimed in audiotape posted on the Internet Tuesday that the group had begun manufacturing its own rockets."
Turning to actual reported events in Iraq today . . .
Reuters reports a car bombing in Hawija that left 3 dead and 4 wounded, a Kirkuk roadside bombing that wounded 3, and a truck bombing -- near Mosul -- which killed 1 person and left 4 Iraqi soldiers wounded.
CNN reports a professor, on his way to work at Baghdad University, was shot dead.
Reuters reports 9 corpses discovered in Mosul, 11 in Baghdad, and 4 in Diwaniya.
Today, the US military announced: "A Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West died April 16 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar Province."  Sunday, the total number of US service members killed in Iraq during the illegal war which began March 2003 passed the 3,300 mark.  Noting that maker being passed today, Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) observed: "The conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for U.S. troops.  More soldiers have died since October than in any other six-month period of the war."
In Italy, a murder trial began today and . . . kind of ended.  While escorting the just released journalist Giulian Sgrena to Baghdad International (March 4, 2005) the car carrying Sgrena and Italian intelligence came under fire from US troops.  As Tracy Wilkinson (Los Angeles Times) notes that US service member Mario Lonzano was being tried in absentia in Rome today. Germany's Der Spiegel sums it up this way: "While everyone agrees that Mario Lozano, an American soldier, fired the fatal shots that killed Italian agent Nicola Calipari in Iraq to years ago, that is where the agreement ends.  For the United States government, the case is closed but Rome sees things somewhat differently.  Italy is putting Lozano on trial for murder even though he is refusing to attend."  BBC reports this statement by the attorney, Fraco Coppi, for Caliparia's widow, on Lonzano not being present, "His absence is his own choice.  It does not represent an obstacle to ascertaining the truth.  We are absolutely serene.  The evidence gathered is indisputable."  Democracy Now! quotes Giuliana Sgrena on the trial itself: "It is a mixture of anguish and of hope.  Of course, as I wanted this trial, I am very happy that now it will start.  But of course, for me it means to go back to two years ago and what happened two years ago.  And so it is very painful for me to think of these things and the details, because at the trial we need to go into details, so it is very painful for me.  But we have to face the trial because it is a very important step."  A step taken but not completed.  CBS News' Sabina Castelfranco reports that the trial "has been postponed until May 14th".  Alessandra Rizzo (AP) notes an immediate adjournment by the judge "for technical reasons."
In other legal news, Marty Graham (Reuters) reports that US service member Sanick Dela Cruz is no longer charged in the November 19, 2005 massacre/slaughter in Iraq and quotes the statement issued by the US Marine Corps: "Charges agains him were dismissed on April 2 after the government balanced his low level of culpability in the alleged crime against the potential value of his testimony."

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