Monday, May 05, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Monday, May 5, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Sadr City continues, Iraq's First Lady surives a bombing, others are less fortunate, and more.
Starting with war resistance.  David Giuliano and Jane Orion Smith (Canada's The Hill Times) [click here for Google cache if you don't subscribe to The Hill Times] note, "In the comming weeks, the House of Commons will consider a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that would allow conscientious objectors to be able to stay in Canada with their spouses and immediate families.  U.S. soldiers who are in Canada have been largely responsible for the focus on this issue in this country.  Globally, however, it is important for many who face even more harsh circumstances.  If today's U.S. soldiers are a part of an 'all-volunteer army,' should they have any rights of asylum?  The UNCHR Handbook on Refugees, the standard-bearer for such questions, say 'yes.'  To qualify for asylum, a soldier must 'show that the performance of military service would have required his participation in military action contrary to his genuine political, religious or moral convictions, or to valid reasons of conscience.'  . . . The findings of the Nuremberg Tribunals after World War II remind us that following orders is not an excuse for committing crimes in war.  Once you are in the field, it is ever the more difficult to refuse an order, even if illegal.  Many of the U.S. 'war resisters' in Canada already saw a tour of duty in Iraq and were under pressure to commit acts that violated basic rules of human conduct.  Joshua Key is currently having his day in Federal Court seeking refugee status."
With other issues occupying the debate in Canada's Parliament last month, the war resisters motion has not yet been debated.  Currently, you can utilize the following e-mails to show your support: 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.  In addition Jack Layton, NDP leader, has a contact form and they would like to hear from people as well. A few more addresses 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).
Turning to Iraq where yesterday saw an attack on Hiro Abrahim Ahmed.  Who is she? 
India's Economic Times noted a Baghdad bombing targeting here, the First Lady of Iraq, which wounded "four of her body guards but . . . [left] her unharmed."  BBC reported she "was travelling to a cultural festival at the city's National Theatre at the time. . . . Ms Hiro Ibrahim is a daughter of Ibrahim Ahmed, one of the founders of the Kurdish Democratic Party, and married Mr Talabani in 1970. She owns a media group and is a children's rights activist."  Sunday also saw the US military announce the deaths of 4 US service members.  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) observed, "The death of the marines in Anbar, in an attack on Friday that the military reported Sunday was one of the deadliest in months on American troops in the province.  For much of the past 18 months, Anbar, once one of the most violet place in Iraq, has been mostly quiet." The announcement put the Sunday April 27th to Sunday May 4th period's death toll at 19.  The US military's announcement notes that the four died "when their vehicle was attacked by an enemy force with an improvised explosive device".  Sunday also saw the murder of journalist Sarwa Abdul Wahab in Mosul.  Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reported that the "journalist, lawyer and member of the Mosul Branch of the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq"  was shot dead outside her home in Mosul.  Canada's CBC reported she had received threatening text messages demanding she stop reporting and that she was apparently in a taxi and pulled from it in what may have been an attempted kidnapping before "she was shot twice in the head."  CBS and AP report the following details, she was 36-years-old, she and her mother, Umm Mohammed, were returning home from the market (on foot), she worked in print and broadcasting and Yasir al-Hamadani explains, "Besides her work as a journalist, she was activist working with non-governmental organizations as well as being a lawyer.  We are very sorry to lose her.  She was very active and very passionate about her work."  She was murdered one day after World Press Freedom Day. Reporters Without Borders states of her death: "This is yet another case to add to the long list of Iraqi journalists who have been targeted by armed groups operating with complete impunity.  We urge the Iraqi authorities to carry out a thorough investigation in order to identify those responsible and to discourage similar murders in the future. . . . As has happened so often in the past, Wahab was caught in an ambush from which she no chance of escaping.  Our thoughts are with her family and colleagues to whom we offer our sincerest condolences."  At the end of last month, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a report entitled "Getting Away With Murder" which charted "the worst countries in the world at prosecuting journalists' killers" and found that "[t]he countries with the worst records for impunity -- Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia -- have been mired in conflict."  Iraq topped the list with CPJ noting: "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." Saturday (World Press Freedom Day) found a McClatchy Iraqi correspondent sharing thoughts (at Inside Iraq) on the Journalistic Freedom Observatory in Iraq's findings that "between March 3, 2007 and March 3, 2008 violations against journalists marked a 60% increase over the last year.  This means one violation every 43 hours" and also noted that "the report didn't mention . . . the provoking attempt against some media institution by religious pulpits and mosques that air the agendas of their political parties which may represent a threat against Iraqi independent media, that one well known Iraqi cleric and MP used his Friday speech to urge worshipers against certain Iraqi media TV channels or newspapers that oppose the government's agendas."  
Meanwhile US journalist Anna Badkhen has returned to Iraq where she will be filing reports for Salon.  Her first one can be read here where she notes, "This is my 10th reporting trip to Iraq since the war began, and my fifth trip as an embedded reporter.  My last trip was in 2006."  The Los Angeles Times' Borzou Daragahi completed his reporting on Iraq in early 2007 but has also returned to Iraq.  On Sunday he and Raheem Salman reported on the mercenary company Blackwater Worldwide which is responsible for the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians from last September 2007 Blackwater shoot-em-up in Baghdad: "Blackwater officials have said their workers feared they were under attack; Iraqi officials and witnesses called it a massacre.  U.S. officials say the investigation of the shooting continues, though they have been tight-lipped about details.  An FBI report is due this year.  In April, the State Department renewed Blackwater's contract for another year, a move that enraged many Iraqis affected by the killings." This as Frontera Norte Sur reports on Blackwater's project to create a viligante camp "in the rural San Diego County community of Potero" . . . US Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), a leading Blackwater critic, said in a radio interview late last week that the presence of a 'private mercenary army' on the border, where it is hard to tell who is a citizen and who is not, was a 'recipe for disaster'."  Douglas Turner (Buffalo News) notes Blackwater "may have evaded up to $50 million in income taxes." Turners listing various corruptions in the White House contracting 'system' and notes, among other problems, electrocutions.  On Sunday, James Risen (New York Times) reported on KBR's we-built-it-no-one-said-it-had-to-safe-for-people defense.  Risen explained "at least a dozen American military personnel have been electrocuted in Iraq" as a result of faulty wiring (failure to ground the electrical wires) and that KBR's attitude for these projects they were over is that the blame goes to "poorly trained Iraqis and Afghans paid just a few dollars a day" (which KBR hired) and feel the failures are no big deal because they explained there might be problems.  Carmen Nolasco Duran lost her brother who was serving in Iraq and wasn't killed in battle, wasn't killed by a bombing, but made the 'error' of thinking he could shower.  As a result of corners cut, Marcos O. Nolasco died in Baiji (May 2004) by electrocution while taking a shower.  His sister tells Risen, "I don't feel like they did their job.  They hired these contractors and yet they didn't go and double-check that the work was fine."
Switching from contractors to civilian empoyees, last week the US House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "Deploying Federal Civilians to the Battlefield: Incentives, Benefits, and Medical Care."  The report states:
Reconstruction and stabilzation operations require a "whole government" approach with the deployment of both uniformed and civilian personnel from the Department of Defense (DOD) and other departments and agencies.  To support these stabilization and reconstruction missions, the President has requested $249.0 million in the fiscal year 2009 budget to build an Active and Standby Response Corps of over 2,000 federal civilian personnel from all 15 civilian agencies and to build a Civilian Reserve Corps comprised of about 2,000 experts from state and local governments and from the private sector.  H.R. 1084, which passed in the House on March 5, 2008, authorizes funds and responsibilities for the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization within the Department of State (DOS) to establish and manage these corps.
[. . .]
The United States has deployed a large part of our volunteer military to support the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we have also called on an army of federal civilian volunteers from the Department of Defense and other departments and agencies to serve.  Over the course of more than seven years of war, nearly 10,000 federal civilian employees have been deplored to Iraq or Afghanistan to support security, political, and economic development.  While certainly unique in scale and complexity, the stability and reconstruction missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are also unprecedented in their risk to our deployed citizens.  Some claim these posts are exposed to such a high level of threat that most civilian personnel would have been evactued from them in the pre-9/11 era.  There are few safe places in countries where terrorists, militia, insurgents, and criminals are seeking power and attempting to undermine efforts to establish legitimate governments.  Even in 'secure' areas such as military bases or the Baghdad 'Green Zone,' personnel are at risk of attack by mortars, rockets, and the possibility that a suicide bomber could infiltrate defenses.  Notwithstanding these risks, federal civilian personnel working in these war zones have been deemed essential to the success of the stabilization and reconstruction efforts.
The report identifies "Ares of Concern" including that "the committee heard directly from two DOD civilians who faced challenges in receiving: proper medical treatment for their wounds, approval for admission to Military Treatment Facilities (MTF), help with OWCP claims process from the Department of Labor, and support from their parent organization to be put back to work."  The Office of Workers' Compesnation Programs (OCWP) was also cited as an error of concern:
The subcommittee heard about problems with: (1) claims officers not recognizing unique aspects of combat injuries; (2) an antiquated and inefficient paper system and inadequate automated system software for handling claims filed by those in sensitive assignments; and (3) the lack of support provided to those who have to negotiate the system for approval of claims.
Considering the importance of encouraging civilians to volunteer to serve in combat zones,
the burden of negotiating the OWCP paperwork and bureaucracy should not fall solely on the wounded civilian. They should be assured that they will receive informed and educated help with this process.
These issues come at a time when the State Dept is threatening to 'draft' employees and station them in Iraq.  The report notes, "Despite assurances from federal agency witnesses who testified before the committee that the relevant agencies can meet the current demand for civilian assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of State met with strong opposition from some of its FSOs [Foreign Service Officers] when it announced in October, 2007 that directed assignements might be required to fill positions in Iraq.  There was significant concern among FSOs, including the AFSA President and Vice President, about how FSOs were informed of these assignments.  Soon after, the Department of State stated that the use of directed assignments would not be necessary since they expected all of their current FSO positions in Iraq to be filled by 'volunteers'." In April, another change emerged.  CBS and AP reported: "The State Department is warning U.S. diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and says it will soon start identifying prime candidates for jobs at the Baghdad embassy and outlying provinces, according to a cable obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. A similar call-up notice last year caused an uproar among foreign service officers, some of whom objected to compulsory work in a war zone, although in the end the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the jobs. Now, the State Department anticipates another staffing crisis."  By September of 2007, 1500 State Dept employees had worked in Iraq and, in terms of the 2007 attempt to 'draft' employees, after forced to back down the State Dept only filled 94% of the jobs in Iraq.
Staying with the topic of civilians but turning to Iraqi civilians, the assault on Sadr City continues and civilians continue to die and be injured.  Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) reported that Saturday the US military conducted an assault which damaged "[a] major hospital in Baghdad's Sadr City".  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) explained that 3 "precision-guided munitions" hit "a small mosque," that children were wounded (a total of 28 people were wounded) and ambulances damaged, while the hospital's windows were blown out.  Rubin noted, "Haider Abbas, 10, was brought to the hospital with what appeared to be a gaping hole in his back and shrapnel injuries across his stomach.  The boy screamed in pain, barely able to answer a doctor's questions."  Peter Symonds (World Socialist Web Site) offers, "The incident provides a glimpse of the hellish conditions created for residents of the huge working class slum through the month-long siege by American and Iraqi government forces.  Prensa Latina leads with, "The US air force bombed a hospital in Sadr City district in the capital, wounding about twenty people, among them women and children" and quotes Ali Bistan ("chief of health department") stating, "They [the US] will say it is a hidden weapons store but they really want to destroy the country's infrastructure, to prevent staff and doctors from arriving to the hospital."  As the assault continues, barriers continue to be erected (by the US military) in Sadr City, walling the area off.  The Los Angeles Times runs a photo by Petr David Josek (AP) showing one such wallingGina Chon (Wall St. Journal) notes of her return "to Baghdad after a monthlog break," "The fighting that began against the Mahdi Army (or what the U.S. calls 'criminal elements' disobeying Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) before I left is ongoing.  As a result, the humanitarian situation in the Sadr City area of Baghdad has worsened.  Sadr City was already a poor area of the capital, but the recent clashes have made it difficult to get aid to the people.  And many families have been displaced. . . .  At a press conference today, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said the government recognizes the need to rebuild and provide economic aid to Sadr City.  But he said the government has been unable to spend all of the $100 million in reconstruction money pledged for Sadr City because of the bad security situation.  As the weather grows increaingly hotter, the importance of providing adequate supplies of electricity and clean water becomes even more crucial."  CBS and AP note: "Iraqi health officials on Monday said that 41 people, including women and children, have been wounded since Sunday" in Sadr City.  Hala Jaber (Times of London) reports from Sadr City.  Among the many noted are Amira Zaydan:
"Ya'mma, Ya'ba" ("Oh mother, oh father"), cried Amira Zaydan, a 45-year-old spinsiter, slapping her face and chest as she grieved for her parents Jaleel, 65, and Hanounah, 60, whose house had exploded after apparently being hit by an American rocket.  
"Where are you, my brothers?" she sobbed, lamenting Samir, 32, and Amir, 29, who had also perished along with their wives, one of whom was nine months pregnant.  
"What wrong have you done, my children?" she howled to the spirits of four nephews and nieces who completed a toll of 10 family members in the disaster that struck last Tuesday.  "Mothers, children, babies; all obliterated for nothing."  
AFP reports, "The Iraqi government, meanwhile, said Sunday that it had no evidence to link Iranian support for militiamen leading attacks in Sadr City and called for better relations with Tehran.  On US accusations that weapons captured from Shiite fighters bore 2008 markings suggesting Iranian involvement, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said: 'We don't have that kind of evidence.'" Considering last week's non-stop press coverage trying to bolster/enable the White House in their claims, the denial has interested very few US outlets.  Leila Fadel and Shashank Bengali (McClatchy Newspapers) did report on it: "The Iraqi Government seemed to distance itself from U.S. accusations towards Iran Sunday saying it would not be forced into conflict with its Shiite neighbor" and quoted alDabbagh stating, "We don't want to be pushed into any conflict with any neighboring countries, especially Iran."  Meanwhile Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports, "The United States is moving south in Iraq, planning to upgrade facilities at Camp Delta and the Al Kut Air Base, which is about 140 miles southeast of Baghdad and just 35 miles from the Iranian border. . . . There has been no public announcement.  But two weeks ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted modifications to an earlier notice tha disclosed it is seeking construction companies or joint ventures interested in bidding to design and build two 'life support areas' at Camp Delta".
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports US air strikes in Sadr City claimed 6 lives with thrity-one more left injured, another US bombing in Baghdad (in Amil) claimed 5 lives ["including three members of one family (parents and their child")] with an additional eight injured, a Baghdad bombing left two people wounded, a Diyala Province roadside bombing that injured seven members of the Iraqi military, two other Diyala Province roadside bombing that injured three police officers and three people belonging to "Kurdish security forces known as Bashmarga" and a Kirkuk roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer (seven more injured).
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an armed clash in Diyala Province that left one person wounded and one person wounded in Nineveh Province shooting. Reuters reports an attack on an Iraqi checkpoint that claimed the lives of 10 Iraqi soldiers with thirteen more wounded.  Reuters also notes 3 women shot dead in Mosul in an apartment invasion,
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Diyala Province kidnapping of 3 truck drivers. 
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 corpses discovered in Baghdad and 1 in Mosul.
Turning to the US presidential race.  It wasn't enough for Barack Obama to embarrass himself by thinking the Great Lakes were in Oregon [which PaganPower (No Quarter) demonstrates the Obama campaign is trying to make disappear], now he shows even more geographical stupidity.  Jeralyn (TalkLeft) highlights his new ad attacking Hillary Clinton -- both are running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- and he says "I approved this message" at the end.  So he's responsible for its accuracy.  The New York Times, a national paper, is published in NYC.  The ad calls the Times Hillary's "hometown paper."  Hillary and Bill Clinton live in Chappaqua, NY.  That's over a half-hour (with no traffic -- there's always traffic -- and going at least 60 mph) from the edge of NYC.  The Times really isn't Hillary's "hometown paper" (Gannett's The Journal News would be the local daily) but any idiot who thought the Great Lakes were in Oregon isn't going to be teaching geography anytime soon. Meanwhile Big Tent Democrat (TalkLeft) educates on counting (which, as he points out, is apparently harder than might be thought). Joe Wilson (Raleigh News and Observer via explains Barack's inexperience and lack of judgement and points out, "Obama repeats the incorrect and politically irresponsible mantra that Sen. Hillary Clinton voted for the war and that therefore he is more qualified to be president.  Unlike Obama, as the last acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the first Gulf War, I was deeply involved in that debate from the beginning. . . .  The betrayal occurred not when the president was given the tools he needed to secure international support for inspections, but rather when Bush refused to allow the inspectors to complete their work and decided preemptively to invade, conquer and occupy Iraq.  That decision and power was his alone -- not the Congress' and certainly not Hillary Clinton's. Obama is wrong to turn Bush's war into Clinton's responsibility. And Obama is dangerously naive in failing to understand the need in international crises to blend tough diplomacy with the other foreign policy tools at our disposal to achieve a strong national security posture."  Meanwhile Susan UnPC (No Quarter) has been covering the realities of Weather Underground victims.  Noting a Fox interview with John M. Murtagh (whose home was bombed when he was an 8-year-old child -- with him in it -- in an attack on his father, NY State Supreme Court Justice John Murtagh ), Susan UnPC wonders today, "Where the hell is the media?"  She's posted the videos of the interviews and also refers you "here and here" for two pieces John M. Murtagh wrote last week.  Why the bombing?  This February 16, 1970 Time magazine piece provides some more details.
The candidates took part in the Sunday chat and chews, Hillary appearing for the hour on ABC's This Week and Barack appearing for the hour on NBC's Meet The Press.   Alessandra Stanley (New York Times) offers the following critique:
Senator Barack Obama sat hunched on Sunday across the desk from Tim Russert on "Meet The Press" on NBC and wearily endured question after question about his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton stood up from her armchair on Sunday to tower over George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" on ABC and merrily took on all critics, even the king of the Clinton-bashers, the talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh.
"He's always had a crush on me," Mrs. Clinton said with a sly smile.
In other words, while Barack was locked in the gas bag bunker, Hillary was mixing it up with the people and looking very of the people. (George noted that both Barack and John McCain had a standing invitation to appear on This Week in the same format.) Some questions were warm, some were pointed and Hillary showed grace and leadership throughout. It was a winning format, true, but it was also the difference between a candidate who was prepared and one who stumbled throughout.   
Barack mainly talked about . . . well himself.         
When all you have to sell is your increasingly tired personality, you come off like Ann Turkel alternately trying to convince the people that Humanoids From The Deep was a work of art and that your bathing suits really will allow people to darken without tan lines.        
It was really that pathetic.
We'll close with Lori Bernardini's "My '88 Years' House Party for Hillary" (
On a typical springtime Saturday morning in Portland (partly cloudy with a chance of rain) several women gathered in an Irvington neighborhood bungalow to rally for Hillary Clinton. Most of the guests arrived in anticipation, donning campaign buttons or carrying banners.
The party was held to commemorate the fact that it had been 88 years since women were given the right to vote -- and we wanted to celebrate the first opportunity for citizens to vote for a woman for president. This house party was one of 88 parties planned for the weekend statewide.    
The bungalow was decorated with official Hillary Clinton campaign signs along with some homemade versions made by the children of the party's hosts. Good smells wafted from the kitchen as one of the hosts produced an assortment of delicious homemade, freshly baked bagels and pastries.   
The discussion about campaign topics was lively. Blogging soon became a topic of interest, including whether this relatively new online communication significantly impacts voter preferences. Finally, the group settled in to focus on the key task of the morning -- making calls to Oregonians to get out the vote in support for Hillary Clinton. The guests had varying amounts of experience making campaign calls -- many had never made calls before and were a little anxious; a few were seasoned callers. One guest said she made calls while grocery shopping!
As the party ended, the guests shuffled out the door with more campaign materials than they arrived with including calling instructions, Clinton campaign information, bumper stickers, and a dose of optimism about Hillary Clinton's chances of winning Oregon -- and the general election.

Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile. Try it now.