Monday, October 22, 2007

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 22, 2007.  Chaos and violence continue, Blackwater remains in the news, tensions continue to be inflamed between Turkey and northern Iraq, a US air strike on Sunday leads to civilian deaths, Bully Boy wants more money for his blood lust addiction, and more.
Starting with war resisters, Laura Rumpf (The Stanford Daily) reports on Stephen Funk, the first public war resister of the Iraq War who singed up with "the Marine Corps in 2002 at age 19" and "realized almost immediately after starting boot camp in Afghanistan that he opposed the war and could not morally be a part of violence he did not condone" so he filed for CO status.  Where did Funk go for information?  As most other war resisters have cited, Funk declares that "I had no idea about conscientious objection as an option until I researched my military rights online."  Ordered to deploy to Iraq in 2003, Funk assumed his CO application was being processed and handled the issue.  Rumpf reports, "On Sept. 1, 2004, Funk became the first known soldier to be jauiled for refusing to serve in Iraq.  In a victory for anti-war activists helping his cause, he was acquitted of desertion charges, but he received a six-month sentence in a military brig at Camp Lejune, N.C., for unauthorized absence."   In the time since, Stephen Funk has continued to be active in the peace movement and Rumpf notes, "On campus [Stanford], Funk is active in the LGBT community and at the Native American Cultural Center.  He serves as chapter president of the San Francisco Iraq Veterans Against the War organization, which helps raise enlistees' awareness about their rights among other activities."
Iraq Veterans Against the War's chair Camilo Mejia is the first Iraq veteran to publicly resist the illegal war. On Saturday he spoke at the national conference of the Campus Antiwar Network held at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Pedro Oliveira Jr. (Badger Herald) reports that the conference had a turn out of "nearly 100 students from CAN chapters across the nation this weekend. During the conference, students had a chance to hear Iraq Veterans Against the War founder Camilo Mejia speak about his experiences in Iraq."
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes James Stepp, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Carla Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters.
The National Lawyers Guild's convention begins shortly: The Military Law Task Force and the Center on Conscience & War are sponsoring a Continuing Legal Education seminar -- Representing Conscientious Objectors in Habeas Corpus Proceedings -- as part of the National Lawyers Guild National Convention in Washington, D.C.  The half-day seminar will be held on Thursday, November 1st, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the convention site, the Holiday Inn on the Hill in D.C.  This is a must-attend seminar, with excelent speakers and a wealth of information.  The seminar will be moderated by the Military Law Task Force's co-chair Kathleen Gilberd and scheduled speakers are NYC Bar Association's Committee on Military Affairs and Justice's Deborah Karpatkin, the Center on Conscience & War's J.E. McNeil, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee's Peter Goldberger, Louis Font who has represented Camilo Mejia, Dr. Mary Hanna and others, and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objector's James Feldman.  The fee is $60 for attorneys; $25 for non-profit attorneys, students and legal workers; and you can also enquire about scholarships or reduced fees.  The convention itself will run from October 31st through November 4th and it's full circle on the 70th anniversary of NLG since they "began in Washington, D.C." where "the founding convention took place in the District at the height of the New Deal in 1937,  Activist, progressive lawyers, tired of butting heads with the reactionary white male lawyers then comprising the American Bar Association, formed the nucleus of the Guild." 
"We will not hand any Kurdish man to Turkey, even a Kurdish cat."  So Michael Howard and Fred Attewill (Guardian of London) report Kurd and Iraqi president Jalal Talabani declaring in a conversation where he also declares that the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq has long been in contact with and "appealed to the PKK to desist fighting."  This follows continued violence over the weekend.  As Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) observes, "Tension is escalating along the Turkish-Iraqi border after 17 Turkish soldiers were killed Sunday in an ambush carried out by fighters with the Kurdistan Workers Party. The Turkish government accused the Kurdish militants of crossing the Iraq border into Turkey to carry out the ambush. 10 Turkish troops are still missing in what was the deadliest attack by the PKK in over a decade. It came just days after the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved a motion to allow troops to invade northern Iraq. On Sunday the Turkish government said it is willing to pay whatever price is necessary to protect its unity and citizens. The Iraqi government has urged Turkey to restrain from using force. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called the Turkish prime minister and urged him to restrain from taking any action for at least a few days."  CNN notes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, is insisting that the United States "take 'speedhy steps' towards cracking down on Kurdish separatists accused of launching attacks across the Turkey broder from northern Iraq."  The PKK is a group that has, for decades, fought to create a Kurdish region in what is currently Turkey much as northern Iraq has long favored breaking away from that nation-state and creating their own.  The PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by most western nation-states including the United States.  Suna Erdem (Times of London) reports that the search continues for the eight missing Turkish soldiers "believed kidnapped" and that violence "continued through the day, claiming the lives of 34 PKK rebels so far, according to the military."  Reuters notes that Firat News Agency has provided the names of "seven Turkish soldiers it said had been captured by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels near the Iraqi border during fierce fighting that started on Sunday.  The statement, posted on Firat's Website, said eight soldiers had been taken hostage in total, but it gave the names of only seven."  Meanwhile Deborah Haynes (Times of London) visits a PKK camp in the Qandil Mountains and discovers a large number of women training for combat, "The women are mostly former Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters who say that they now pursue more of an educational and co-ordinating role in support of Kurdish women's rights. Airstrikes have become a regular hazard as tensions rise between their outlawed organisation and the Turkish Government. Women play a crucial role in the PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades in a campaign that has cost more than 30,000 lives."  The now apparently inpending conflict is not a new development though the US White House prefers to act as if it is.  In April 2004, The War Comes Home's Aaron Glantz was reporting for Pacifica that "American soldiers could be on the verge of fighting another war in the Middle East.  In Washington for meeting with the US military leaders, the Deputy Chief of the Turkish Army General Staff demanded the US Army start fighting against approximately 5,000 Turkish Kurdish guerillas hold up in camps in the snow-capped mountains of Northern Iraq. . . . After meeting with senior American military officials in Washington, the Deputy Chairman of the Turkish Army faced reporters.  The General, Ilker Basburg, told reporters the Bush Administration agreed to take what he called 'concrete steps' against the PKK before handing authority over to the Iraqi governing Council at the end of June."  Which, for the record, did not happen.  While the US was happy to create a civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis, the Kurds were always elevated to their own status due to business interests in the region leading to the non-stop flurry of the "Kurdish Oasis" in the press that has repeatedly ignored the violence in the area -- violence intended to purge/'cleanse' the region of non-Kurds.  In addition the PKK is seen as hostile to Iran, an attitude they share with the current US administration.
Having done nothing, the US administration now attempts to prevent the outbreak of an out and out war.  Howard Schneider and Amit R. Plaey (Washington Post) report that the US measure is having US Secretary of State Condi Rice and US Ambassador to Iraq meet "with an arry of Turkish and Iraq officials" while the US State Department flack Sean McCormack insists a "full-court press" is ongoing.  What is ongoing, (Times of London) reports, is protests in Turkish cities and "As the United States and Europe engage in a diplomatic scramble to deter unilateral Turkish action in northern Iraq, convoys of Turkish military vehicles moved towards the mountainous border with Kurdish-run northern Iraq".
Vincent Boland and Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) report that Talabani declared today that "the PKK would announce a 'ceasefire'"; howevever, that "is unlikely that Turkey, which, along with the US and the European Union regards the PKK as a terrorist organisation, would respond to such a development, at least officially."   At the White House today, press flack Tony Fratto took questions from the press revealed that the Bully Boy is not highly involved in averting the outbreak of further conflict in Iraq ("I'm not aware that the President has made personal calls on his own with the leadership there") but is instead pushing it off on the State Department and the Defense Department and denied hearing "official word" on any ceasefire while insisting that "we just want to make sure that the PKK stops these activities, stops these attacks.  It's not helpful in that part of the world right now and so we want to see it stopped."  But in April of 2004?  That didn't come up.  He also stated that the US cabinet members were "asking" the PKK to cease but then corrected himself with "not 'asking' the PKK, but addressing the situation of the PKK to stop these attacks on the Turkish people and the Turkish army."  Al Jazeera reports that the PKK has denied, on their website, that they are "offering a ceasefire if Turkey abandons plans to launch cross-border raids against them" and that "Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reporting from northern Iraq said PKK fighters based in the region were not confirming the ceasefire offer.  'The leadership based here is denying that at this point of time a truce offer has been made,' she said, underlining the confusion."  And of interest is that the White House flack doesn't know the White House talking point.  Tabassum Zakaria (Reuters) reports that Bully Boy is stating he's been in talks with puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki and that "they agreed to work with Turkey to prevent the Kurdish rebels from carrying out attacks from Iraqi soil". Meanwhile, Talabani's long silence followed by justifications of the PKK led to a damage control interview -- or an attempted one -- with Georges Malbrunot (France's Le Figaro) where he stayed on message for most of the interview but then lashed out at Syria again (he lashed out at them repeatedly last week for their public support of last week's vote in the Turkish parliament) declaring that they are harboring a Ba'athis from Saddam Hussein's regime and that "Those people cannot be integrated into the national reconcialition process." 
The previously mentioned 'talk' between the Bully Boy and the puppet of the occupation must have made for an interesting talk considering other developments.  As Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reported this morning, "In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has condemned U.S. forces for carrying out a deadly ground and air raid on the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad. According to Iraqi sources, 15 civilians were killed including three children. Another 69 civilians were wounded. One local resident said some of the casualties were people sleeping on roofs to seek relief from the heat and lack of electricity. The U.S. military has denied any civilians were killed in the pre-dawn raid. In a statement the Pentagon said U.S. troops had killed 49 militants. "  On Sunday, Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reported a Baghdad bombing that targeted US troops and US "Troops responded by bombing the area" -- this is the attack on a civilian population.  Last night, Reuters reported the Baghad air strike killed at least two toddlers.  Today, Christian Berthelsen (Los Angeles Times) reports that the US insists all 49 (the US military figure) who died are "criminals" and Iraqi governmental officials say "many of the victims were civilians" while a journalist working for the paper "said he saw the corpses of a woman and two small children.  The wounded included two boys, 8 and 11, who were interviewed in their beds at Imam Ali Hospital by The Times. Another man said his 18-month-old son was killed, as well as a neighbor's son who was the same age."  Al Jazeera reports, "Iraqi police and hospital officials said US helicopters and fighter jets bombed buildings during the 5am raid in the district. . . . James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad, said a television cameraman had filmed bodies of dead children. Several houses and stores were damaged.  Clouds of black smoke rose from the area early on Sunday as sirens wailed, heavy gunfire echoed and US helicopters circled overhead, Reuters television footage showed. Relatives gathered at the Imam Ali hospital as the emergency room was overwhelmed with bloodied victims and the dead were placed in caskets covered by Iraqi flags."  The US military is denying in some reports that an air strike took place (see previous Al Jazeera report for one example) but the BBC notes that the US millitary "called in air strikes."  Bobby Caina Calvan (McClatchy Newspapers) speaks with eye withness Jassim Hashim who "said he had just set out to work when U.S. helicopters swept low over Sadr City, which is home to more than 2 million Shiites in Baghdad's northeast quadrant. He said the helicopters began raining fire on the city below.  Hashim was shot in the leg, while two companions, he said, were seriously hurt.  He said he also saw two neighborhood boys, one 13 and the other 14 years old, crumple to the ground as bullets struck them. Both died, Hashim said. Hashim identified the younger boy as Husham. 'The helicopters were shooting randomly here and there,' Hashim said."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Baghdad bombings claimed 2 lives "in Zafaraniyah district" (eight more injured), 2 lives "near al Elwiyah" (thirteen more injured), claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier "in Al Jamia'a neighborhood" (two more injured), while 2 people died in a Babil bombing, an Eskandariyah mortar attack claimed 1 life and a Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 police officers (with four other people injured).
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an engineer was shot dead outside Hilla city.  Reuters reports "a former member of the ousted Baath Party" shot dead in Kut and that "local Sadr official in the town of Ifech"  Abbas al-Ghurabi was found "critically wounded hours after local police had arrested him and that "Iraqi security forces arrest Abdul Hadi al- Mohamadawi, the head of Sadr office in Kerbala and his aide in a raid on the Sadr office in the city, police said. Kerbala is 110 km (68 miles) southwest of Baghdad."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 5 corpses were discovered in Baghdad while 2 were discovered in Kirkuk.  Reuters reports 5 corpses discovered in Mosul (4 males, 1 female).
Turning to the subject of mercenaries, Blackwater USA continue to attempt to remake their image.  Over the weekend, Bill Moyers interviewed Jeremy Scahill on PBS' Bill Moyers Journal (watch, listen and read).  Friday, Cedric (substituting for Kat) observed, "It was a really strong discussion and the point that stands out to me most is the proposal that the FBI oversee Blackwater. Scahill explained how that was a joke. The FBI would set up an office in Iraq (probably the Green Zone) and be expected to oversee all 180,000 plus contractors in Iraq (more than the number of US troops in Iraq). That one office would then be responsible for investigating and then the issue would be decided in US courts. That's a joke. That's not oversight and the White House has so politicized the Justice Department that no one should expect justice. Scahill also made the point that not only does Blackwater protect the State Department and the Pentagon but when Congress goes to Iraq, their members are also protected by Blackwater. The idea that the FBI or anyone protected by Blackwater can offer oversight is just ludicrous."  Wally (filling in for Mike) noted, "Bill Moyers shared that he wondered if Blackwater would be used to guard DC. He said that if there was an attack after the next president was elected, would we find mercenaries guarding DC? Jeremy Scahill talked about Blackwater going into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and how they were there before FEMA. I knew that part but I didn't know the part about Erik Prince sending in 150 without even being asked. About a week later, Homeland Security would give them a contract which is bad enough but do we all get that the mercenaries were sent in with loaded weapons on no authorization at all?  Is that what America's supposed to be? Mercenaries can just enter a city and take over?  That should scare the hell out of everyone."  Moyers pointed out the p.r. push Erick Prince (CEO of Blackwater) had been on during last week:
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, let's remember, this is a guy who prior to the September 16th shooting in Baghdad had only done one television interview ever. And it was right after 9/11 on Fox News with Bill O'Reilly. And during that interview, he said that after 9/11, the phone's been ringing off the hook at Blackwater. Other than that, this is a guy who hasn't really appeared in public. So, it was unusual to see him, A, appear before the Congress. And B, do this blitzkrieg of interviews. I think the message was very clear. He was trying to say we're a patriotic American company. That we're Americans protecting Americans. We want accountability for our industry. But there is also something that sort of reminded me of Jack Nicholson in A FEW GOOD MEN where he's talking about 'I eat my cereal, you know, meters away from Cubans who want to kill me.' Where Erik Prince uses terms like the bad guys and our blood runs-- runs red, white and blue.
BILL MOYERS: And nobody talks like that in normal life do they -- our blood runs red, white and blue.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. It's almost I think part of the point here was to say, look, you don't understand really, American people, what we're doing for you. While you're enjoying comfort here in the United States, we're over there protecting our-- men in women in uniform, our diplomats. I think that there's a way that he wants to increase the mystique about the company and the operations of Blackwater.
BILL MOYERS: But do you think he was motivated and his PR firm was motivated in part because he didn't do that well before Congress at the recent hearings into this investi-- into this shooting?
JEREMY SCAHILL: I think that Blackwater has made a very serious strategic error in how they've handled their publicity for years. And now, we're seeing the company go on the offensive. I think Erik Prince held his own in front of the Congress. And I attribute it largely to the fact that it appeared as though the Democrats didn't really do their homework on him.
I mean, here you have the man who owns the company providing the largest private army on the US government payroll in Iraq. A billion dollars in contracts. Twenty-seven of his men killed in Iraq. We don't know how many people he killed. No private actor in the occupation of Iraq has had more of a devastating impact on events in Iraq than Blackwater. And I just felt watching that hearing, and I went down for it, that many of the Democrats hadn't done their homework.  
Is the p.r. push working?  Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reported today, "In North Carolina, police arrested seven protesters on Saturday during a demonstration at the headquarters of the private military company Blackwater. The protesters re-enacted the Sept. 16 shooting in Iraq when Blackwater forces opened fire and shot dead 17 Iraqis. Saturday's demonstration marked the first protest at Blackwater's headquarters since the company was formed."   And the Chicago Sun-Times editorializes:

If the U.S. government persists in outsourcing war to private contractors, those companies need to be accountable to the American people.  
They are not.
The FBI investigation into the Sept. 16 killings of 17 Iraqi civilians by employees of Blackwater USA, a private security contractor, exposes a gaping lack of accountability. U.S. soldiers are investigated and tried under clear and established rules when accused of wrongdoing. A cottage industry that has grown exponentially since Sept. 11, 2001, private military companies are policed by a patchwork of rules and agencies that have left officials unclear on how to scrutinize and prosecute them. 
Contractors shouldn't be rogue militia, roaming the country shooting without justification and without consequences. This is especially true since the federal government has apparently hired out the Iraq war right under our noses: There are nearly as many private military employees there as troops.

Stil the New York Times continued to carry water for Blackwater.  As if minimizing the September 16th slaughter wasn't enough, as if trumpeting a report as being written by the US embassy staff in Iraq when it was actually written by Blackwater, as if attempting to turn Prince into the next Ollie North via a variety of lies (including that Prince has a crew-cut) weren't enough, Paul von Zielbauer shows up today to praise the small modifications in Blackwater's corporate logo  which consist of making the bear-like paw print more like a bear's and reducing the gun site markings. PvZ dubs the older logo "rough-neck" (so manly, Pvz, so manly) but there was (and is) nothing "rough-neck" about the logo because the mercenaries of Blackwater were not in the business of going into towns plagued by rogue bears. The logo was not "rough-neck," it was xenophobic because the mercenaries were saying they'd track down any "animal" with their logo and "animals" obviously referred to people.
In the face of all the above, Bully Boy announces his illegal war needs more money.  Bully Boy announced of his latest request, "The majority of the supplemental funding is for day-to-day -- is for day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bill provides for basic needs like bullets and body armor, protection against IEDs, and Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles. It also funds training missions, vital embassy programs, improvements in Iraq and Iraqi security forces, and intelligence operations that protect our troops. These are urgent military necessities, and the supplemental was prepared in close consultation with our commanders on the ground. This funding is what General Petraeus and other military leaders say we need -- and Congress ought to give it to them."  The bill provides for?  Almost five years into the illegal war and Bully Boy wants to claim that?  Of course, he has made similar claims before and the fact that he has to make those claims yet again just indicates he's pushing another bill that will enrich defense contractors but do nothing to assist those on the ground.  Bully Boy pushes another tax payer give away to his cronies and acts as if the funding has been day-to-day (period to period, actually) as a result of someone's actions other than his own.  He has repeatedly refused to level with the American people about the real financial costs of the illegal war, electing instead to go for piecemeal measures that would make the appear far less.  As with other bills he's insisted upon having, this one does nothing for those serving on the ground but will allow the DoD to get more big monied items.  And it comes as news breaks about more robo-weapons being sent to Iraq.  Bully Boy is not funding the service members, he is funding big corporations and an illegal war.  As the slogan Tina Richards and IVAW coined says, "Funding the war is killing the troops."  That reality remains despite Bully Boy's latest round of lies.
Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes, Valerie Plame discussed with Katie Couric how her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, calling out Bully Boy's lies of war led to covert CIA agent Plame being outed by the US government.  Plame declared, "When I was outed on July 14th, 2003, I was, until that moment, covert. . . .We understood that he would be criticized deeply. I never once considered that in fact this administration would betray my identity as payback for his criticism."  For those late to the party or who have swallowed GOP talking points, Plame was an undercover CIA agent. Her husband Joe Wilson was sent to Niger to see if Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase yellow cake uranium from Niger. Wilson knew the country well and also knew Hussein well (stood up to him during Poppy Bush's presidency). Wilson went to Niger to check out the rumors and found there was no truth to them. In the 2003 State of the Union speech -- the only speech a president is Constitutionally mandated to deliver and, therefore, the only one that the oath applies to without any doubts or quibbles -- Bully Boy declared his 16-word lie about Saddam seeking yellow cake from Africa. Lie and the White House eventually (long after the illegal war started) had to retract it. In his 2003 performance for the United Nations, Collie Powell would make clear what country Bully Boy was referring to. Lies, lies, lies.

Joe Wilson would go public with "What I Didn't Find In Africa" in the New York Times. The White House would immediately respond by leaking the fact that Valerie Plame was CIA. Robert Nov-a-hack would be the first to run with it. Valerie Plame would be outed, her career destroyed, by the US government -- the same government she worked for. 

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around