Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 19, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths over the weekend, a disease outbreak effecting children in southern Iraq, an outrage outbreak in the UK as it turns out -- yes -- the intell was 'sexed up,' Howard Zinn offers the wisdom only he can, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  US war resister Camilo Mejia,chair of Iraq Veterans Against the War, is the subject of the documentary Dear Camilo (Querido Camilo) which was awarded first prize in December at the Tenth Icaro Central American Film and Video Festibal in Guatemala.  The film is plays next month at the 25th Miami International Film Festival.   The Miami Herald notes: "Dear Camilo, a portrait of Camilo Mejía who was the first soldier of the U.S. to declare himself a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq and the first to be convicted for his refusal to return to the Middle East. In English and Spanish with English subtitles; 9:15 p.m. COSFORD. Also 9:15 p.m. March 7 at REGAL."  A trailer for the film can be seen at YouTubeThe summary from the official site notes: "Camilo Mejia was the first soldier in the U.S. Army to declare himself a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq, and went public with his refusal to return to the front line.  On 21 May 2004, amid great public interest, court-martial sentenced the 28-year-old sergeant to one year of imprisonment.  Dear Camilo tells his story from his perspective, but also from that of his parents and a former classmate.  It is the story of a naive but intelligent young man who grew up in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  His parents advised him against volunteering for the army, but he did so all the same.  After experiencing the ragages of the war in Iraq firsthand, he started to have serious misgivings.  Upon his return from Iraq, he first went into hiding, but then realised he could not go on like that and openly decided to refuse military service.  From prison, Camilo writes that even though he is behind bars, he finally feels free, because he heeded a higher power than his army superiors: his conscience."   Camilo Mejia tells his own story in Road from Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia (published last May by the New Press). 
War resisters are also in Canada and with Canada's Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals on the issue of safe harbor status for war resisters in Canada. The country's Parliament remains the best hope for safe harbor war resisters like McCall may have. You can make your voice heard by the Canadian parliament which has the ability to pass legislation to grant war resisters the right to remain in Canada. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca -- that's pm at gc.ca) who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion (Dion.S@parl.gc.ca -- that's Dion.S at parl.gc.ca) who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua (Bevilacqua.M@parl.gc.ca -- that's Bevilacqua.M at parl.gc.ca) who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, 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, Clara 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. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).


In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.

March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'." As part of their fundraising efforts for the event, they are holding houseparties and a recent one in Boston featured both IVAW's Liam Madden and the incomprable Howard Zinn as speakers. IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause.  Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible.  The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies.  It won't be easy but it must be done.  Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it."
In the United Kingdom much attention is focused on the lies that led to the illegal war.  On Monday, Chris Ames (New Statesman) explained that "[t]he secret first draft of the Iraq WMD dossier written by Foreign Office spin doctor John Williams has finally been published after a ruling back in January under the Freedom of Information Act. . . . The document places a spin doctor at the heart of the process of drafting the dossier and blows a hole in the government's evidence to the Hutton Inquiry. . . .  From the time that the row first erupted over Andrew Gilligan's allegations that the dossier had been sexced-up, the government has claimed that [Intelligence chief John] Scarlett's draft, produced on 10 September 2002, was the first full draft and produced without interference from spin doctors.  But the Williams draft, dated a day earlier, shows that spin doctors were sexing up the dossier at the time the notorius 45 minutes claim was included." Today Alex Barker (Financial Times of London) reports the response to yesterday's release includes the fact that "[o]pposition parties renewed calls for an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq War" while Rose Prince (Telegraph of London) explains, "Opposition politicians said the report proved that the case for war had been based on the arguments and rhetoric of spin doctors rather than an impartial analysis by intelligence experts" and that while "Ministers were keen to stree that the dossier had been drawn up by the Joint Intelligence Committee . . . [,] critics last night seized upon the similarities between the draft written by Mr Williams and the final version." Nigel Morris (Independent of London) reports, "Last night, the opposition parties said the language used by Mr Williams, the former political editor of the Daily Mirror, showed that ministers initially turned to senior press officers to make eye-catching claims about the evils of Saddam's regime.  They renewed calls for a public inquiry into the build-up to the conflict."  As Great Britain's Socialist Worker points out, "It's no wonder that the foreign office tried to suppress it. . . .  It's bad enough that Tony Blair took us into a war apparently on the basis of a document written by a foreign office press officer.  But what's worse is that the infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could launch chemical weapons within 45 minutes was not in the draft document.  It was written in the margin by someone else in Whitehall and appears in the final dossier -- backing up the claim that the dossier was 'sexed up' to justify the war."
Turning to some of the reports coming out over the weekend.  As if cholera, malnutrition and becoming an orphan aren't enough risks for the children of Iraq, a disease long present in the region is suddenly thriving.  Maria Cheng (AP) reported that already "275 children in southern Iraq have been infected with a disfiguring skin disease, an outbreak some health officials are blaming on the war's devastating effect on the public health system.  According to the United Nations -- citing reports from Iraq's southern province of Qadissiyah -- 275 children have been struck with leishmaniasis, which is spread by sand flies.  Most have a form that causes skin sores, but others have a type that strikes internal organs and can be fatal."  IRIN explained yesterday, "Children are particularly at risk because they typically have weaker immune systems than adults, he [Qadissiyah General Hospital's Mohammed Sahib] said.  A single sand fly bite can be enough to transmit the diesease."  The one that produces sores but does not attack the body's organs is not simply a few 'bumps.'  The CDC explains, "The skin sores of cutaneous leishmaniasis will heal on their own, but this can take months or even years.  The sores can leave ugly scards.  If not treated, infection that started in the sink rarely spreads to the nose or mouth and causes sores there (mucosal leishmaniasis). . . .  Mucosal leishmaniasis might not be noticed until years after the original skin sores healed.  The best way to prevent mucosal leishmaniasis is to treat the cutaneous infection before it spreads" and as for the other form (also currently being found in the children of southern Iraq), "If not treated, visceral leishmaniasis can cause death."  The World Health Organization provides photos of those who had the disease on their face that show the permanent scarring produced (scroll down WHO's page).  As for the version that attacks the body's organs, WHO notes, "Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala azar, is characterized by high fever, substantial weith loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anaemia.  If left untreated, the disease can have a fatality rate as high as 100% within two years."  On February 11th, IRIN was noting that 180 children had been diagnosed with it and quoted Fahan Mohammed ("head of Siniya local council"), "About a month ago, we informed the provincial officials about the spread of this disease in our area and that we did not have enough medicines for it.  But no one responded in a serious way and that contributed to the spread of this disease, as our modest efforts in the area's medical centre were not enough." Ismail Salami (Iran's Press TV) observes the outbreak "is yet another appalling consequence of US invasion of Iraq. . . . Wars are wars but the invasion of a country under the banner of democracy and bringing disease and calamity instead to the women and children, looting a nation's natural resources and exercising greater control over the region for egoistic or military pursuits is a telltale charade orchestrated by the diseased minds of the imperialists who seek to achieve their fiendish goals by any means."  Note that the article contains a photo of a very small child with the disease.  AP notes, "Though the disease was first identified in Iraq more than a century ago, outbreaks were rare during Saddam Hussein's regime.  But since the conflict began, experts say the destroyed health system has opened the way for diseases lurking in the environment."  A photo of a woman with scars from the cutaneous leishmaniasis accompanies this IRIN article which notes, "The disease's incubation period is up to six months, so thousands could have the disease without knowing it."
While requests and pleas for help were ignored, ExxonMobile, Shell, Chevron and BP expect to be heard.  UPI reported Saturday that Big Oil is pushing for the theft of Iraqi oil to be pushed through the parliament which "could wrap up next month" and "Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron are in discussions with Iraq's Oil Ministry for special technical support contracts". Meanwhile the Times of India reports today that "Reliance Industries Ltd is staying away from signing up for acreage auctions in Iraq for fear of being blacklisted by the government for signing oil deals with the Kurdistan Regional Goverment (KRG)."  Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) noted yesterday that the theft of Iraqi oil legislation "remains stalled by bitter rows between Baghdad and the largely autonomous Kurdistan region in the north over who will control the fields and how revenue will be shared." Despite that conflict, the delay and the reluctance on the part of Reliance, Jonathan Saul (Reuters) reported yesterday, "Over 70 companies on Monday registered to compete for oil extraction and service contracts to help develop Iraq's oil reserves, the world's third largest."  Meanwhile ConsumersforPeace and Dallas Peace Center have released a statement, "The Big Three Oil Boycott to End the War, against ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, will be taken to the street on Saturday, February 23 in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas by the Dallas Peace Center and Consumers for Peace.org as part of a two-day international action with oil workers in Iraq and demonstrators in England, Indiana and Washington, DC."  Noting Alan Greenspan's comments in his recent book ("It is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows -- the Iraq war is largely about oil"), Alex Callinicos (Socialist Worker) provides a walk through, "Oil runs through the history of US capitalism and its efforts to dominate the world.  It's where its greatest business dynasty, the Rockefellers, made their money.  Today the Western oil super-majors and their local rivals still ride high at the top of the global corporate hierarchy."
Some that might think they'd increased their own ranking on a hierarchy would be the members of the 'Awakening' Councils in Iraq -- the US collaborators who became 'allies' when coin was tossed their way.  Sunday Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) reported on a Zab funeral where almost a thousand people turned out to mourn "family members of a sheik who died in an attack there" that they say was launched by the US while in Jurf al Sukr "a number of Iraqi guardsmen quit Saturday to protest the killings."  Steve Lannen (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on Saturday that "Citizen brigades in the province of Babil quit work after three members were killed by U.S. Forces Friday, a local police spokesman said Saturday" which is the Jurf al Sukr group identified by Rubin and Lannen explains this is the 2nd walkout, "The action in Babil province follows a strike by citizen brigades members in Diyala province, northeast Baghdad, that has gone on for more than a week."  Meanwhile the six month cease-fire/truce between Moqtada al-Sadr and US forces may or may not continue.  Later Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported that in the face of claims that the US military killed innocent Iraqis who were in fact collaborating with the US , the US military is now asserting that these 'allies' "have fired on American troops twice in the last two weeks".  On Sunday, Steve Lannen and Hussein Khadim (McClatchy Newspapers) reported on a Baghdad bombing which is thought to be "the fifth female suicide attack this year and the eighth since November" and quote eye witness Sameer Ahmed who explained the woman cried out "I am going to explode myself if you come near me" and was shot by a shop keeper at which point the bomb went off claiming 3 lives (in addition to the bomber) and wounding eight. On NPR's Morning Edition today, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro cited an al-Sadr spokesperson who said "Sadr is unhappy with the government actions against his followers.  There have been intense negotiations between members of the government and Sadr's bloc in the run up to the deadline.  The cleric so far has not given any indication what he will decide."  Garcia-Navarro stated there is some chance that an announcement will be forthcoming "in the next few days."  Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Mudhafer al-Huseini (New York Times) report 5 Iraqi civilians dead from a rocket attack that "struck the large American military base near Baghdad International Airport and a nearby neighborhood" yesterday.  Rockets accounted for more deaths today.  In some of today's reported violence.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 woman dead from a Baghdad roadside bombing that also wounded two other people, a Baghdad house bombing that wounded one person and a Salahuddin roadside bombing that left four Iraqi soldiers wounded.  Reuters notes a Mosul bombing where a driver apparently "rammed a minibus into a building used by Iraqi security forces" resulting in the death of 1 Iraqi soldier with two police officers wounded. Michael Holden (Reuters) explains 15 Iraqi police officers are dead in Baghdad with an additional forty-five injured from attempting "to defuse rockets that had been prepared for launch from the back of a truck."  Muhammed Al Dulaimy reports that first "two U.S. military outposts were hit by at least eight rockets" and that when police responded, they discovered "a truck that was used as a launcher and some unexploded rockets."
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one person shot dead in Baghdad in an attack on "a mini bus," a Monday night Diyala Province home invasion that resulted in the deaths of 4 people -- the wife and husband, "their son and a female guest" and, back to today, another attack on an official as "police Lt. Col. Taha Ghileith" was shot dead en route to work in Diyala Province.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 1 woman's corpse was discovered in Mosul
Sunday, ICCC noted [PDF format warning]: "Two Coalition Force Soldiers were killed as a result of a small arms fire attack in the Diyala Province Feb. 17. One Soldier was also wounded and transported to a Coalition medical facility for treatment.19 announced deaths (US service members) is the current total for the month thus far with 3963 since the start of the illegal war.
Turning to the United States.  Sewell Chan (New York Times) reported on a Friday NYC action where "20 antiwar activists gathered outside an Army recruiting office in East Harlem this afternoon to protest what they described as the military focus on persuading young blacks and Latinos to fight in Iraq" and quoted World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime's Debra Sweet explaining, "The question of military recruitment is important because you can't carry out this war without fresh troops.  These troops are being trained to carry out war crimes.  We're sending a message that military recruiters are not welcome to prey on yought.  The war will be stopped by the action of the people.  That is the only way it will be stopped."  A point Howard Zinn would argue as well and he does as he addresses (The Progressive) "election madness"  and notes, "Would I support one candidate against another?  Yes, for two-minutes--the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.  But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools.  Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy or matters of war and social justice. . . .  The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.  They offer no radical change from the status quo. . . . So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.  Yes, two minutes.  Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
On the press and Iraq, the Polk Awards have been announced.  McClatchy Newspapers reports:
Leila Fadel, McClatchy's Baghdad bureau chief, won the George R. Polk Award for outstanding foreign reporting and The Charlotte Observer won the Polk Award for outstanding economic reporting, Long Island University announced Tuesday.
Fadel, 26, was cited for her "vivid depictions" of the military and political struggle in Iraq. "Her work provided a comprehensive array of disturbing, first-hand accounts of violence and conflict by juxtaposing the agonizing plight of families in ethnically torn neighborhoods with the braggadocio of a vengeful insurgent proud of his murderous exploits, and the carnage and sorrow among victims of Iraq's most deadly car bombing in a remote region of the country where few reporters ventured," the jurors said.
Robert D. McFadden (New York Times) notes other winners which include Jeremy Scahill winning his second Polk, this time for his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Joshua Kors "a freelance, won the magazine reporting award for articles in The Nation exposing misdiagnoses by military doctors that cheated wounded Iraq veterans of disability and medical benefits by claiming they had pre-existing "personality disorders." After an uproar, President Bush signed a law requiring investigations of all discharges based on such diagnoses.."  In April of 2007, NOW on PBS spoke with Kors and Bill Moyers spoke with Jeremy Scahill for Bill Moyers Journal last October.
Tonight on PBS (in most markets, check local listings), Frontline devotes the broadcast to examining the Haditha slaughter.  This being Frontline, watch at your own risk.  And that's watch and listen only because Frontline does not feel that -- despite being broadcast on public television -- it is their obligation to provide the deaf or hard of hearing with a damn thing (no transcripts, no summaries).

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