Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 26, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US and UK announce deaths, the assault on Basra continues, Barack Obama returns from his R&R to hide behind Iraq and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Canada's CTV offers a report on war resister Phil McDowell which features text and a video clip.  Below is a transcript of the video report.
Tom Hayes: Phil McDowell and Michelle Robidoux hang out with a morning coffee but it's a relationship that goes much deeper.  McDowell is a US army deserter and Robidoux is helping him out.  It was this day [Sept. 11th, footage of NYC and the Pentagon shown] back in 2001that sent McDowell running to the enlistment office.  After all he felt he had to defend his country.  Then his country decided it was going into Iraq. 
Phil McDowell: There's no doubt that he [Saddam Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction.  There's no doubt that he has, that Saddam Hussein has ties with al Qaeda. 
Tom Hayes: Did they convince you?
Phil McDowell: They convinced me I believed it.
Hayes: McDowell wants to be clear: He's not afraid to go into combat, not afraid to pick up a gun.  We know this because he's already been there.  McDowell served a year in Iraq.  He was a model soldier.  He survived and was sent home.  He was then discharged.  No longer in the army, he was told to go off and get on with his life.  But a few months later, Uncle Sam wanted him back, back to fight a war he no longer believed in. 
Phil: This can't be right, I don't want to have anything to do with this.  They said, well you don't have a choice.  You're going back whether you like it or not.  I signed up to defend my country.  I didn't sign up to take part in wars of aggression. 
Tom Hayes: There are about 150 US deserters now in Toronto.  They are seeking refugee status on the grounds the US is fighting an illegal war.  But it's a tough sell.  Much tougher than in the sixties when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau welcomed Vietnam draft dodgers with open arms.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't so keen on a motion to allow the deserters to stay.  The House of Commons will decide that by mid-April but that could already be too late for eight US war resisters who have already received deportation notices.  And if they are sent back, they will be arrested the minute they step foot on US soil.  Robidoux runs the group  She's currently helping out more than fifty US deserters.  McDowell calls her a good friend.  His wife has also joined him here in Toronto.  If he is allowed to stay, however, he faces a future without an extended family.  If he's not allowed to stay, he faces up to five years in prison.
Phil McDowell: I would definitely go back to visit my relatives but if it's -- the choice I made here to move to Canada rather than fight in an illegal war, I'd make the same decision any time.   
Tom Hayes: Tom Hayes, CTV News.
For those in Canada, the nation's Parliament remains the best hope for safe harbor war resisters 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 ( -- that's pm at who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion ( -- that's Dion.S at who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua ( -- that's Bevilacqua.M at 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. That is the sort of thing that should receive attention but instead it's ignored. We will note war resisters in Canada tomorrow.  There is not time today, my apologies.          

There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, 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, Logan Laituri, 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).    
Turning to Iraq, battles continue.  Today on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, McClatchy Newspapers' Leila Fadel provided a report and overview, calling in from Baghdad.  
Diane Rehm: Can you talk about what set off the fighting in Basra and where things stand right now?
Leila Fadel: Well Basra has been spiraling out of control for months now, the British military pulled out late last year basically handing it over to Shia militias in a city that are battling for power.  Maliki, the prime minister here, finally declared a security operation on Monday night and the battle has been fierce mainly between Iraqi government forces and the Mehdi Army which is loyal to the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.  Basra is a strong-hold for the Mehdi Army and the Sadrists are saying this is a battle against them to consolidate power  for their Shia rivals, the Supreme Council here in Iraq. 
Diane Rehm: And what is Prime Minister Maliki threatening?  What is he demanding?  What is he threatening?
Leila Fadel: Well Prime Minister Maliki is saying that he wants every weapon in the hands of the government.  He wants all weapon smugglers, this is a very important city, 90% of Iraq's oil comes from there, it's a border town.  It has the main port of Iraq there.  And a lot of the weapon smuggling, oil smuggling happens there.  And so the main families that deal with oil smuggling, weapon smuggling have been targeted in Basra.  He has given what he calls outlaws 72 hours to surrender while the battle continues it seems that the main targets and the people fighting back are the Medhi army and the Sadrists are saying that they are the targets, the sole targets, of this operation.
Diane Rehm: And how likely are they to respond to al-Maliki's demands? 
Leila Fadel: Well today Moqtada al-Sadr asked Maliki to leave Basra and to try to deal with the situation through dialogue.  The response has been fierce from the Mahdi army.  The cease-fire is not intact in Basra, they are battling and they are battling hard in that city.  So far it's unclear how many people have died.  We have a number of thirty-three but residents are telling us there are dead bodies in the street and at least one Sadr neighborhood the dead bodies are being put in the mosque because they can't get to the morgues and the hospitals because of the curfew.  And hospitals are barely functioning with little to no medical staff and medical supplies.  The whole city and the province has been sealed off and curfews have been implemented all throughout the south. 
Diane Rehm: And Leila, you're in Baghdad what's the situation there right now?
Leila Fadel: Well the Medhi army has done a forced sit-in in all Medhi army neighborhoods and so what has happened is that they sealed off neighborhoods where they have large control and, at gun point, told shopkeepers to close, the kids are not allowed to go to school, in one situtation they evacuated the school that was functioning.  In Sadr City there have been violent clashes between Iraqi security forces, US forces and the Medhi army in Sadr City.  Sadr officials are saying that at least 20 people have died and a hundred were wounded, among them women and children.  But it's unclear what's happening there because it's completely sealed off by the militia.
Diane Rehm: So do you see this as the end of Moqtada al-Sadr's cease fire that was first called in August and then renewed in February? 
Leila Fadel:  At this point it is unclear if Moqtada al-Sadr can really afford to lift that cease-fire.  His statement from the Mehdi army yesterday was to pass out  the Quran, holy book of Islam, and olive brances to the police.  He only said police, though, not the army.  But the cease-fire doesn't seem to be intact.  The Green Zone has been coming under heavy, heavy mortar fire for three days now.  Three US citizens, government workers, were injured seriously today.  And throughout the capitol, police have abandoned their checkpoints inside the Mehdi army controlled neighborhoods and they're now only on the main roads now.  There have been attacks on police checkpoints, on Badr offices which is the military  wing of the Supreme Council the biggest Shia of  rival of the Sadrists in Iraq.  In Basra, they're reacting fiercely and fighting hard and so watching what's happening on the ground doesn't seem to be a cease-fire.  Although the military, the US military, is trying to say this is only special groups, splinter groups, from Moqtada al-Sadr's movement which doesn't seem to be the case on the ground.   
Diane Rehm: Well Leila, final question for you.  How much of the drop in violence during this US troop surge can be attributed to Moqtada al-Sadr's cease fire? 
Leila Fadel: I think a lot of the drop in violence can be attributed to the cease-fire. 
At that point, Fadel's call was lost (actually during "cease"). Fadel filed a report today noting that, "U.S. forces joined Iraqi troops in Baghdad to fight Mahdi Army militants, and police said that at least 20 people had been killed in the Sadr city neighborhood, a stronghold for Sadr's backers. . . . In Baghdad, Mahdi Army-dominated neighborhoods remained sealed off, angering residents who couldn't open their businesses, get to hospitals or send their children to school.  In the south the fighting spread to Kut as Maliki sent more forces from Karbala to supplement the 15,000 troops he already had.  U.S. air support attacked targets on major roadways and the homes of suspected weapons smugglers, said Abdel Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for the Ministry Interior."  Sam Daghr (Christian Science Monitor) echoes Fadel's observations on Baghdad being shut down ("Buses stopped running and shops closed") and writes, "Residents and Mahdi Army militans alike appeared to be bracing for a coming battle, guarding against US and Iraqi forces advancing to stop the rockets allegedly fired from Sadr City that hit the Green Zone again Wednesday for the third day since Saturday." Alexandra Zavis and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) note that not only has the violence spread elsewhere in Iraq, so have the demonstrations. Leila Fadel and Ali al Basri (McClatchy Newspapers) describe a popular chant in Najaf yesterday: "Oh Nouri, you coward.  You spy of the Americans."  In Basra, Atul Aneja (The Hindu) explains, "the Mahdi Army has now apparently established control over the main road from the town of Amara to Basra, allowing it to cut off military supplies for the government troops which pass through this way.  Fearing an attack from the Mahdi Army, members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Da'wa Party have fled their headquarters in the city.  The ISCI is led by the Shia cleric Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, while Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki heads Da'wa."  Zavis and Parker cite analysts describing the Basra conflict as a struggle for political power, note the upcoming provincial elections (October 2008) and how Da'wa and ISCI have failed to deliver anything to mos Iraqis.  Ben Lando (UPI) quotes Congressional Research Service's Kenneth Katzman who says the battle "was planned a month ago" by the central government in Baghdad and that what is going is "an internal Shiite war for who is going to represent the Shiite community in Iraq." On the first hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show, of the US Institute of Peace and the James Baaker circle-jerk, expressed surprised that Mosul was not the focus, couldn't imagine why Basra was where Iraqi and US forces were moving and made it clear that he didn't believe the US military initiated the action. Fadel and al Basri explain that "Maliki is taking a major political risk in attemptin gto recover Basra, which was virtually handed over to militias when the British military withdrew late last year.  The risk was heightened by his presence at the start of the operation.  His critics were quick to portray his decision as a political gunpoint."  AFP describes the events this way, "The city has become the theatre of a bitter turf war between the Mahdi Army and two rival Shiite factions -- the powerful Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim and the smaller Fadhila party -- ahead of provincial elections in October.  The three factions are fighting to control the uge oil revenues generated by the city, seen as the economic nerve centre of the country."
Focusing on some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that in addition to the mortar attack Fadel noted above (that wounded three US 'officials') the Green Zone was hit with six more mortar shells while another hit outside and killed 1 person and left six more wounded, a Baghdad bombing left two people wounded, a mortar attack in Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood claimed 3 lives and left fifteen more people wounded, another 3 were killed in a southeast Baghdad mortar attack that also left twelve wounded, a downtown Baghdad mortar attack claimed 2 lives and left five more people wounded, an east Baghdad mortar attack left four people injured, a Baghdad bombing left three people wounded, a Basra rocket attack killed 4 police officers, a Basra mortar attack on "the detainees affairs department" left seven prisoners injured, 60 dead in Babil as a result of US helicopters that "bombed the neighborhoods" and another US air strike claimed 8 lives "including Judge Munaf al Azawi a court judge and his two sons, two women, a child and a man".  Reuters notes a US air strike in Hilla which led to dthe deaths of 11 people and eighteen wounded (at least, on both figures).
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports armed clashes in Sadr City between residents and US (and presumably Iraqi) forces resulted in 20 civilians dead and 115 wounded, the Mahdi army shot dead eleven people in downtown Baghdad in a half hour this morning,
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad, in Tikrit the corpse of Mohammed Shakir Mahmou was turned over (he "died after being tortured by a US sponsored militia"),
Today the US military announced: "A Mulit-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier was killed by hostile fire in eastern Baghdad at approximately 4:30 p.m. March 26."  And they announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier was killed during a small-arms fire attack at approximately 12:35 p.m. March 26 while conducting a combat patrol.  After being shot, the Soldier was medically evacuated to a Coalition forces combat support hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds."  The current total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war is 4003.  The UK Ministry of Defence announced: "It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of a British soldier in Iraq today, 26 March 2008.  The soldier died as a result of gunshot wounds sustained during a firefight in the early hours of this morning."  Thomas Harding (Telegraph of London) explains that the death took place "during a covert operation" somewhere in Baghdad and "It is believed the trooper from 22 Special Air Service Regiment was part of a troop of Special Forces who were carrying out the raid . . .  A firefight broke out as the soldiers broke into the location and the soldier, who was wearing body armour, was killed in the exchange of gunfire.".  The total number of UK forces killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war stands at 176.
Turning to US campaign politics.  Today Barack Obama, of all people, had the nerve to toss out Iraq as his latest excuse to hide behind.  Before we get there, Barack has been hiding out in the Virgin Islands (see Wally, Cedric, Rebecca, Wally and Cedric again and Mike). Taking a page from the 'successful' John Kerry 2004 presidential campaign, Obama decided hiding out in the Virgin Islands was the perfect way to address the Jeremiah Wright controversy that is not going away.  Jeremiah Wright would be Barack's friend, mentor, pastor, and just about everything but helpmate -- for over 20 years.  Hiding out in the Virigin Islands does you little good when Wright can't stop making the news.  Specifically Anna M. Tinsley (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) reports on TCU (Texas Christian University) deciding that Jeremiah Wright -- who used his pulpit to damn the United States -- wasn't appearing on their campus. Fredreka Schouten (USA Today) reports that a Tampa, Florida church has also cancelled a schedule appearance (and, no, it wasn't due to 'security'). AP reports that THREE Houston churchs have cancelled appearances by Wright scheduled to take place this Sunday. The issue is what USA Today notes as "God d—- America for treating our citizens as far less than human." Wright damned America.  It offended many.
But Obama ignored it last week and the press ran with the distraction.  He refused to address specifically the offensive remark in last week's nearly 5,000 word speech.  It should have been addressed.  Instead we got nonsense.  Lots and lots of nonsense.  And drooling in the media (mainly White) because that speech wasn't about race.  In fact, I keep waiting for someone to point out the most offensive aspect of Barack's speech.  He wanted to take it to historical oppression and go back to what he dubbed "original sin" in the region we call the US today.  Well gee, Bambi, long before anyone, ANYONE, sailed over by choice or force, Native Americans populated this region so if you're going to talk about "originial" anything, trying getting your facts right. Or try being inclusive -- Liang offered her response to that bad speech here. But as Ava and I noted, the MSM is never going to be honest about race and Panhandle Media has made sure to convey that they too only see race in two shades: Black and White.  It's amazing to hear all the gushers gushing over a speech that ignored race in the US so completely.  But the speech was never supposed to be about race.  It was supposed to distract Americans -- that is who will be voting in the presidential election in November -- from the fact that Barack Obama believes it is perfectly okay to belong to a church whose pastor uses the pulpit to damn the United States -- to damn the country Barack Obama says he can represent, says he wants to represent, says he can defend.  Defend or damn?  That's the question on many minds.
Today AP reports that Bambi showed up in North Carolina to claim that Wright's comments were nothing but "a half-minute sound clip" --  that's all they were? -- and that "We cannot solve the problems of America if everytime somebody somewhere does something sutpid, that everybody gets up in arms and forgets about the war in Iraq and we forget about the economy."  Uh, excuse me, Barack Obama, but who forgot the illegal war.  That would be you.  That would be you who told Elaine and I, when you were running for the US Senate and begging for money, that the US was in Iraq now and so the troops had to stay to win.  And, sure enough, when you made it into the US Senate, you didn't do a thing to end the illegal war.  And in your campaign, you haven't done a thing.  In fact, Samantha Power -- your then foreign advisor -- revealed to the world -- via BBC -- that you didn't mean a word you were saying about "combat troops out in 16 months" which you lie in your speeches and reduce to "We want to end the war now!"  That's the extent you offer on Iraq -- a bumper sticker.  Now you spoke for nearly 5,000 words last week. Yes, you appear to have cribbed my points and words (and, no, you did not have permission) but it was a bad, bad speech.  And the reality is, you haven't even tried to speak like that about Iraq.  So don't blame the fact that your pastor of 20 years, in the church you made your home, damned the United States for the fact that you won't address the Iraq War.  The president of the United States is expected to defend the US.  But when Wright damned the US, you didn't leave the church.  You still haven't called him out on it or distanced yourself from his remarks damning the US.  You want to be the leader of the US and America's not even sure you can be counted onto verbally defend the US because Wright damned the country and you did nothing.
As Craig Unger (Vanity Fair) points out, should Barack get the Democratic Party nomination (he means presidential, but apply it to the v.p. slot as well), the "Wright scandal" is not going away and "you can bet that it will be an issue in the general election".  Yesterday, Hillary Clinton was asked about the issue in an newspaper editorial meeting and again at a press conference. CNN reports:

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Clinton referenced a speech she gave nearly a year ago after talk-radio host Don Imus' controversial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team.  
"I said it was time for standing up for what is right, for saying enough is enough, for urging that we turn a culture of degradation into a culture of empowerment, for saying that while we of course must protect our right of free expression, it should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean or humiliate our fellow citizens. Sen. Obama spoke eloquently at that time as well," she said.
"Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They were obviously very personal matters," Clinton added. "But I was asked what I would do if he was my pastor and I said I think the choice would be clear for me." 

No she would not have stayed and no one running for president should have stayed with that church.  This isn't minor.  This has nothing to do with race.  It has to do with the character required to be president.  Barack Obama can agree with many of Wright's points regarding racism (I happen to) but when it comes to the issue of damning the United States and doing so from the front of the church, a pastor using all his presumed power/pull with God to damn the United States, there are serious problems and serious questions and last week's speech was the distraction from that issue.  But the issue is not going away.  USA Today cites Obama flack Bill Burton declaring that Hillary -- responding to direct questions -- is offering a "transparent attempt to distract attention." No, Burton, she was answering a question. The transparent attempt to distract was sending Barack off to the Virgin Islands to lay low and hope the outrage died down. As the cancelled appearances for Wright suggest, it has not died down. Now Barack's showing up in North Carolina to claim that anyone raising the issue is preventing talk about Iraq.  No, that's not preventing talk about Iraq and Mr. Pretty Words offered nothing but bumper stickers for months and months when no one was talking about Iraq.  He may think Americans are that stupid but that's not the case.  The only stupidity is a campaign that's refused to address an issue that won't die down.  And, again, shouldn't.  The people of the United States have a right to expect that someone running for president will defend the country.  Barack Obama has yet to prove that defending the US is a concern for him.
While Barack pretends that he could address Iraq if only pesky Americans would stop focusing on questions his own actions raise, Senator Hillary Clinton underscored the differences between herself and Senator John McCain on Iraq:
While there is much to praise in Senator McCain's speech, he and I continue to have a fundamental disagreement on Iraq. Like President Bush, Senator McCain continues to oppose a swift and responsible withdrawal from Iraq. Like President Bush, Senator McCain discounts the warnings of our senior military leadership of the consequences of the Iraq war on the readiness of our armed forces, and on the need to focus on the forgotten front line in Afghanistan. Like President Bush, Senator McCain wants to keep us tied to another country's civil war, and said "it would be fine with me" if U.S. troops were in Iraq for 50 or even 100 years. That in a nutshell is the Bush/McCain Iraq policy.

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