Thursday, May 01, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, May 1, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, the VA scandals continue, 5 years since "Mission Accomplished," and more.
Starting with war resistance.  Kyle Snyder is an Iraq War resister living in Canada.  He is one of many.  A variation in Snyder's story is that he self-checked out twice, going to Canada both times.  At YouTube, a video is posted of him explaining that (March 17, 2007):
Kyle Snyder: I just recently traveled back to the United States, on October 31st.  I had to drop my refugee claim.  If any of you have been following my story, I was a refugee claimant in 2005 after deserting the Iraq War.  I believe the Iraq War to be illegal and immoral on many fronts and I'm currently writing a report on that and why I think that is illegal and immoral.  I witnessed what I believe to be war crimes and I witnessed what I believed to be a true occupation for oil resources and not a liberation or a bringing of democracy to the people of Iraq.  And I refused to take part in that war.  So I basically want to tell you my story about that trip to the United States.  Like I said, I dropped my refugee claim meaning I had to go to the Canadian government, CBSA -- Canada Border Services Agency, and sign pieces of paper saying that I was returning to my home country to receive a discharge from the United States military. I worked for two months just west of here in Wetaskiwn, Alberta trying to receive a discharge from a major at Fort Knox, Major Bryan Patterson -- who somehow doesn't exist to the media now.  When I turned myself in, I was very, very scared.  I was very scared because I had dropped my life here in Canada, I had left my job, I had left my family.  I left my friends.  All on the chance that I would be discharged when I turned myself in.  The lieutenant walked in and said "Don't worry, we'll discharge you within three to five days."  That never happened.  They put me in a room with a mirror and a phone that was not connected to any wall.  There was no phone connection.  They denied me access to my lawyer and said they wanted me to -- they ordered me after two years of not serving in their military to return to my unit.  Which is now based in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  My unit wanted to re-integrate me into the military and send me back to Iraq a second time.  The 94th engineers are deploying for a third time to Iraq.  They're one of five units that are deploying to Iraq a third time -- since the surge that Bush ordered while I was in the country.  I did the only thing that made sense to me at that point: I refused to sign the orders.  I have documents saying the soldier refused to sign. And I went AWOL a second time. I did not catch the Greyhound Bus, instead I went out to eat and enjoy Halloween.  And I did the only thing that made sense, again, and I pointed out the atrocities of the Bush administration in New Orleans, where we rebuilt a veterans' home, a Vietnam veteran's home.  And I was almost arrested in New Orleans shortly after rebuilding this home with Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Anyway, I spoke at 20 different high schools in Chicago, primarily African-American and Latino community schools that were going to be shut down by the American government because there was no funding to them.  Recruiters feed off of schools in America like this.  And I did anti-recruitment work in these schools.  Basically pointing out to the government again that if a recruiter can walk onto a campus legally, why is there not a steel worker standing next to him, why is there not a carpenter standing next to them, why is there not any of these? My plan was to receive a discharge, come back to Canada in time to spend Christmas with my family.  I couldn't do that.  Instead, I bought my fiancee a ticket back to Wetaskiwin, Alberta so she could spend Christmas with her family and I stayed in the United States and I didn't know what was going to happen.  I decided to come back to Canada just this January and I can no longer apply for refugee status even though I was only gone for five weeks.  I know people that go on vacation for longer than five weeks and come back to the life that they had.  So now I don't know what I'm going to do other than apply for permanent residence status and I don't know how I'm going to be able to stay in Canada.  And I really, really need you guys' help to support me in my staying in Canada.  And I really want to thank all of you for being here today and calling for the Canadian troops out of Afghanistan especially and calling for the United States out of Iraq.  It means so much to me that you guys are doing that.  I have one more announcement to make.  I'm really pleased to announce that there are enough war resisters in Canada that we can start a chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War in Canada.  So we'll be doing that very shortly and we'll putting up a website for donations and for anything, just events that Iraq Veterans Against the War will be doing here in Canada in the near future.  So I just wanted to announce that.  Thanks.
US war resisters in Canada who are hoping to be granted safe harbor status and the Canadian Parliament will debate a measure this month on that issue. You can make your voice heard. 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.         

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, Jose Vasquez, 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, Jason Marek, 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).
As Paul Reynolds (BBC) observes, today's a fifth anniversary, "President Bush did not say "Mission Accomplished" on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego on 1 May five years ago. But the banner above him did."  CBS and AP remind, "Five years after that speech, after the meaning of the phrase "mission accomplished" and when is a job truly 'done' has been endlessly parsed, and after responsibility for creating and hanging the sign was first denied and later accepted, the White House said Wednesday that President Bush has paid a price for the banner, with its affirmative message becoming a target of mockery and a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly war -- a war in which major combat operations are still being waged.  While the White House distanced itself from the message soon after the event, Mr. Bush was not averse to repeating it. Speaking to troops in Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar the following month, Mr. Bush said, 'America sent you on a mission to remove a grave threat and to liberate an oppressed people, and that mission has been accomplished'."  Dan Froomkin (Washington Post) breaks it down -- when Bully Boy gave his speech, the US troops death toll was 139 and the number wounded was 542 while today 4,064 are dead and 29,395 are wounded. US Senator and presumed GOP presidential nominee John McCain made the news today with John Whitesides (Reuters) reports that "McCain said the administration mishandled the war's early stages and raised public hopes by calling the remaining insurgents in Iraq 'dead-enders' in their 'last throes'."  Helen Thomas noted the anniversary yesterday in Dana Perino's White House press briefing.
Helen Thomas: How does the President intend to commemorate "Mission accomplished" after five years of death and destruction?
Dana Pernio: What you're referring to is the banner that ran -- that was aborad the ship five years ago.  President Bush --
Helen Thomas: I'm talking about the anniversary tomorrow.
Dana Perino: Yes, I get -- no, I understand.  That's the anniversary of when that banner flew on that ship.  President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said "mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission."  And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner.  And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.  I think what's important is what the President would -- how the President would describe the fight today.  It's been a very tough month in Iraq, but we are taking the fight to the enemy.  The President, you heard him say yesterday, believes that fighting terrorists, jihadists, al Qaeda, and the Iranian-backed militias --
Helen Thomas: Is every Iraqi a terrorist?
Dana Perino: -- and the Iranian-backed militias --
Helen Thomas: We're fighting the Iraqis, we're bombing their homes.  What do mean?
Dana Perino: Helen, we are going after terrorists and al Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia militia who are killing not only innocent Iraqis but our soldiers as well, and we're doing so in --
Helen Thomas: We're bombing homes with children.
Perino would continue spinning and Helen Thomas' final comment would be, "We're going after Iraqis who are fighting for their own country."
Maybe this will pass for 'success'?  Iraq made the top of a list.  It's The Committee to Project Journalist's "Getting Away With Murder" list where Iraq comes in number one for deaths of journalists that go unprosecuted: "Iraq became the world's most dangerous country for the press after the 2003 U.S. invasion led to armed conflict and sectarian strife.  Journalists have generally not died in combat, however.  Most are targeted for professional reasons and murdered.  Most of the victims, such as Al-Arabiya correspondent Atwar Bahjat, are Iraqis.  Seventy-nine cases are unsolved." 
'Success' also can't be found in the VA.  Bob Egelko (San Francisco Chronicle) reports of the lawsuit filed against the VA by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, with Arturo Gonzalez as the attorney,  "The plaintiffs want [U.S. District Judge Samuel] Conti to order the VA to carry out its own plan to improve suicide prevention and overall mental health care -- issued in 2004, but still mostly at the pilot-program stage -- and to direct the agency to set timetables for benefits and allow veterans to be represented by lawyers.  Gonzalez said the judge should appoint a representative, known as a special master, to make sure the agency complies."  AP quotes Gonzalez declaring, "The system, your honor, has crashed.  It's been overwhelmed.  And the pattern of neglect continues."  This comes as AP reports the VA's inspector general released a report today finding that "Significant needs remain unmet" and "It found that 10 of the 41 veterans who agreed to be interviewed said they weren't getting needed help for health care, vocational rehabilitation, family support or housing. At least four patients specifically cited trouble in getting primary or specialty eye care, while others reported gaps with family counseling for problems such as depression and anger."  
On this anniversary, it might be worth examing The Makings of a War Hawk.  Fortunately US Secretary of State Condi Rice explained the process on Monday speaking at the Peace Corps 2008 Worldwide Country Director Conference:
Condi Rice: I was very fortunate.  I started out life as a piano major -- as a pianist.  I was three years old when I learned to play the piano.  I could read music before I could read.  And I was absolutely going to be a great concert pianist.  And it was the end of my sophomore year, and I went to the Apsen Music Festival, which is a great school for prodigies, and I met 11-year-olds who could play from sight what it had taken me all year to learn.  And I though, "Okay, I'm about to end up at Nordstrom playing or maybe a piano bar someplace.  But, you know, not Carnegie Hall.
Not since Ernestine's hopes to be a ballerina were dashed by the dropping of a six pack on her feet has one taken so much inner bitterness and inflicted outward.  [Ernestine is one of Lily Tomlin's classic characters and Tomlin will be appearing at the Olympia, Washington Friday at 8:00 p.m. --  at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts (512 Washington Street S.E.; 306-753-8586).]  While Condi laments her piano car and ignores diplomacy, Alexandra Zavis (Los Angeles Times) reports, "A delegation from Iraq's governing Shiite alliance traveled to Iran on Wednesday to meet with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other ranking Iranian officials, said a senior advisor and two other politicians with close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki" and quotes Nouri al-Maliki's aide Haider Abadi stating, "We are looking for good, neighborly relations with Iran, but it cannot go on like this."  AFP quotes Moqtada al-Sadr's spokesperson Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi explaining, "Moqtada al-Sadr did not permit his leaders to meet the Iraqi delegation.  Sadr insists that the crisis can be solved only through a parliamentary initiative backed by President Jalal Talabani and speaker Mahmud Mashhadani."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad car bombing that claimed the lives of 8 Iraqis and wounded 21 more (there's another death and we'll get to that shortly), 3 Baghdad roadside bombings that wounded thirteen people, a Baghdad mortar attack that wounded three people, a US airstrike on Baghdad that claimed 4 lives and left twelve people injured, a Diyala Province roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left four more wounded, a Diyala Province bombing involving two bombers (one male and one female) that resulted in 36 deaths (plus the bombers) and sixty-five people wounded and a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed the lives of 2 members of the Iraqi military.  On the last bombing, Nico Hines (Times of London) notes, "Police said the attacks occurred in the busy market town of Balad Ruz in the restive Diyala province. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the attack bore hallmarks associated with al Qaeda in Iraq.  A second bomber was said to have struck as crowds rushed to evacuate the wounded from the first attack, a common tactic used to maximise casualties." AFP quotes eye witness Ibrahim Hassan stating, "The first blast happened in front of an ice cream shop.  A lot of people ran to help the wounded, but two minutes later another bomber blew himself up in the crowd." Selcan Hacaglu (AP) reports, "In the suicide assault, a woman bomber blew herself up as people were dancing and clapping while members of the passing wedding party played music in Balad Ruz, a predominantly Shiite town 45 miles northeast of Baghdad. A male bomber attacked minutes later as police and ambulances arrived at the scene, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Rubaie, head of the Diyala provincial operations center that oversees Balad Ruz.  The two explosions tore through the stalls and stores that lined the area, and al-Rubaie said at least 35 people were killed and 65 suffered wounds, including the bride and groom."
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one person wounded by a Baghdad shooting,
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 5 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Today [PDF format warning] the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad soldier was killed from wounds sustained when a vehicle-borne improvised exposive device struck the soldier's vehicle during a combat patrol in central Baghdad at approximately 9:15 a.m. May 1."
Turning to the US,today is May Day and Kelly Kearsley (The News Tribune) reminds it "is traditionally a day to celebrate labor and workers' rights."   John Holusha (New York Times) reports that over 25,000 dock workers went on strike today on the West Coast.  The workers are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union whose  official statement (PDF format warning) notes:
More than 25,000 longshore workers at 29 west coast ports are excercising their First Amendment rights today by taking a day off work and calling for an end to the war in Iraq.    
"Longshore workers are standing-down on the job and standing up for America," said ILWU International President Bob McEllrath.  "We're supporting the troops and telling politicians in Washington that it's time to end the war in Iraq."  
McEllrath says rank-and-file members made their own democratic decision in early February when Longshore Caucus delegates voted to take action on May 1.  Employers were notified of the plan, but refused to accomodate the union's request despite plenty of advance notice.  The employer group, represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) consists of large carriers and port operators, most of which are foreign-owned.  
"Big foreign corporations that control global shipping aren't loyal or accountable to any country," said McEllrath.  "For them it's a all about making money.  But longshore workers are different.  We're loyal to America, and we won't stand by while our country, our troops, and our economy are destroyed by a war that's bankrupting us to the tune of 3 trillion dollars.  It's time to stand up, and we're doing our part today."
Ronald W. Powell (San Diego Union-Tribune) explains, "The work stoppage was . . . not the first such protest.  Last year, the union called for workers to take off to protest U.S. immigration policy." KNBC reports, "Art Wong of the Port of Long Beach said the action was affecting that facility.  Arley Baker, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles, said none of the cargo terminals at that facility were operating."  The Central Valley Business Times states that the action "struck 29 West Coast ports from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, including the Port of Stockton in the Central Valley."  Kristopher Hanson (Long Beach Press-Telegram) informs, "Trucks and trains ferrying cargo from the nation's busiest seaport in Long Beach and Los Angeles were backing up during the morning and early afternoon, but port authorities didn't expect any long-term effects."  Louis Sahagun (Los Angeles Times) offers this perspective: "The show of force by the union came two months before the contract expires between the dockworkers, represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which respresents port operators and large shippers, many of them foreign-owned."  The Iraqi General Union of Dock Workers released a statement:
Dear Brothers and Sisters of ILWU in California           
The courageous decision you made to carry out a strike on May Day to protest against the war and occupation of Iraq advances our struggle against occupation to bring a better future for us and for the rest of the world as well.                  
We are certain that a better world will only be created by the workers and what you are doing is an example and proof of what we say.  The labor movement is the only element in the society that is able to change the political equations for the benefit of mankind.  We in Iraq are looking up to you and support you until the victory over the US administration's barbarism is achieved.          
Over the past five years the sectarian gans who are the product of the occupation, have been trying to transfer their conflicts into our ranks.  Targeting workers, including their residential and shopping areas, indiscriminately using all sorts of explosive devices, mortar shells, and random shooting, were part of a bigger scheme that was aiming to tear up the society but they miserably failed to achieve their hellish goal.   
We are struggling today to defeat both the occupation and sectarian militia's agenda.  The pro-occupation government has been attempting to intervene into the workers affairs by imposing a single government-certified labor union.  Furthermore it has been promoting privatization and an oil and gas law to use the occupation against the interests of the workers.  
We the port workers view that our interests are inseparable from the interests of workers in Iraq and the world; therefore we are determined to continue our struggle to improve the living conditions of the workers and overpower all plots of the occupation, its economic and political projects. 
Labour Movement released a statement of thanks
Turning to the US presidential race.  This morning on  NBC's Today Show, Meredith Vieira interviewed Barack and Michelle Obama.  (Click here for audio and video available today and for podcasting available throughout.) Meredith's interview will also air (in extended form) on MSNBC Saturday.  Michelle Obama tried to steer the interview and schill for her husband stating that her husband was "trying to move us as a nation beyond these conversations" -- these conversations?  About the crackpot mentor, pastor, inspiration, friend, et al Jeremiah Wright.  Michelle's part of the co-interview because, clearly, Barack can't handle it alone.  She really took control during the interview (in most instances that was a good thing or the campaign's talking point would never have gotten out -- as defocused and meandering as he is, she's like a laser beam).  However, Michelle Obama is not running to become president and the question is about the nominee's judgement skills.  Equally true, if the country wanted to 'move on,' Michelle and Barack would not be guests on Today's first hour to talk about the subject.  She refused to answer Meredith's question about Wright ("Do you feel that Rev. Wright has betrayed your husband?") even when Meredith repeated it.  Barack lied about his own and Michelle's life and should have just kept his mouth shut because the question was to Michelle and she was the smarter of the two.  "I should have said angry and frustrated instead of bitter . . . I should have said people rely on their religion instead of cling to . . ."  Can he please stop lying?  (No, he can't.  Listen to his I-Can-Big-State lies.  It's embarrassing.  He's either lying or completely stupid.)
Transcript is available at Time.  Word substitution does not change what he said.  Key passage: "And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."  Point, anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-trade sentiment are not seen by Barack as 'good' things so let's all stop pretending that anything changes with a word substitution.  He was spitting on Small Town Americans.  He stated that they cling to God, guns and racism.  That's the reality of the insult. 
Adolph Reed Jr. (The Progressive) weighs in on why he's not supporting Barack and notes:
It may be instructive to look at the outfit where he did his "community organizing," the invocation of which makes so many lefties go weak in the knees. My understanding of the group, Developing Communities Project, at the time was that it was simply a church-based social service agency. What he pushed as his main political credential then, to an audience generally familiar with that organization, was his role in a youth-oriented voter registration drive.
The Obama campaign has even put out a misleading bio of Michelle Obama, representing her as having grown up in poverty on the South Side, when, in fact, her parents were city workers, and her father was a Daley machine precinct captain. This fabrication, along with those embroideries of the candidate's own biography, may be standard fare, the typical log cabin narrative. However, in Obama's case, the license taken not only underscores Obama's more complex relationship to insider politics in Daley's Chicago; it also underscores how much this campaign depends on selling an image rather than substance.
And note, the piece got more comments (a lot of them positive) than most of what The Progressive posts during any given week.  Hillary Clinton is also attempting to win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and 12-year-old Alec Noland Huffman writes at her site about what the campaign means for him: "I started volunteering for Hillary Clinton because she is very educated in politics because she has 30 years experience and that's a lot.  My family is a middle class family.  We are the working class.  Middle class families work 2, 3 sometimes even 4 jobs for some of them.  It is not easy for them; they have to work a lot with no time to spend with family or friends.  In the 90s we were thriving in America and now we live paycheck to paycheck and it's not good.  When I started volunteering it was a little boring but as I did it more I got better and it got fun and now it is something I like to do.  I believe she will win.  Amonther thing that Hillary is for is veterans.  My grandfathers are veterans and they aren't treated well.  I would vote for Hillary because she will bring our troops home and take care of them physically and mentally."
"The fifth anniversary of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech comes the same week as a chief architect of the Bush administration's war in Iraq conceded "We were clueless on counterinsurgency." That statement confirms what we have all known: the planning and strategy was flawed. Our troops deserved and deserve better.
"All Americans honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States in Iraq. We are grateful for the tremendous burden they have carried. Our troops have done their job.
"The path forward is to use American diplomacy and our allies to allow U.S. forces to come home, and turn responsibility back to Iraq and its people.
"That is the plan I have laid out to the American people as a Senator and as a candidate, and that is the plan that I will carry out as President."

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