Monday, September 22, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, Shell returns to Iraq, evaluating the 'surge' and more.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (Morning Edition) reports on the growing tensions in Khanaqin, a city in Diyala Province (and, not noted by NPR, an oil rich area containing the Naft Khana oil field). Garcia-Navarro notes that "Khanaqin is a disputed city that lies about 15 miles outside of the Kurdish provincial borders. As far as the Iraqi government is concerned, it falls under the province of Diyala's control. Last month the Iraqi government sent the Iraqi army into Diyala Province one of the most restive in the country to flush out al Qaeda in Iraq as part of that operation the Iraqi national security forces tried to move into Khanaqin but they were stopped by the Kurdish troops." "Last month" is actually July 29th. During Saddam's rule, Kurds were expelled from Khanaqin and Arabs were brought in. The illegal war changed that and now Arabs are expelled. Garcia-Navarrot notes that "these days it's the Kurdish leadership that's been expanding its control since the US-led invasion in towns and cities outside of Kurdistan. It's been deploying Kurdish forces and bankrolling local governments. Many Arab-Iraqis suspect that Kurds are trying to get control over an ever-widening swatch of land as a precursor to an eventual bid for independence. The Kurds deny it." The report notes that the Iraqi military has been refused entry Khanaqin and that last week Abd al-Qadir al-Mufriji, Iraq's Defense Minister, and the US military's 2nd command in Iraq visited the region in an attempt to work out some understanding but none was reached and the Iraqi military is still refused entry and the Kurdish pesh merga patrol the city.
Khanaqin has been in the news before this month. From the September 15th snapshot:
Saturday BBC reported, "A roadside bomb killed six Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Khanaqin town in Diyala province, north-east of Baghdad." Sam Dagher (New York Times) observed that the Saturday bombing increased "tensions with the Iraqi government and local Arabs over the Kurds' presence in the area. The Kurdish presence in Khanaquin, and in other nearby areas, has been a growing source of tension. Kurdish forces have been moving the borders of their semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, in what they say is an effort to improve security. But the move has been viewed by many Iraqi and American officials as a threat to stability in areas that are already prone to violence." Amit R. Paley (Washington Post) reported before the bombing, "Kurdish leaders have expanded their authority over a roughly 300-mile-long swath of territory beyond the borders of their autonomous region in northern Iraq, stationing thousands of soldiers in ethnically mixed areas in what Iraqi Arabs see as an encroachment on their homelands. The assertion of greater Kurdish control, which has taken hold gradually since the war began and caused tens of thousands of Arabs to flee their homes, is viewed by Iraqi Arab and U.S. officials as a provocative and potentially destabilizing action." An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy (at Inside Iraq) reviews the benefits for the Kurds and wonders if "is it right to cause a state to collapse into entities to realize your dream?" The correspondent notes how the Peshmerga appears to decide what they will do and which areas (Kurdish or non-Kurdish) they will 'patrol.' Of oil-rich Kirkuk, the correspondent notes that Kurds compose only an estimated 40% of the city's population but have "taken control of it and the Pershmerga handle the security there". Of the Iraqi Constitution, the correspondents notes that "the Kurds objected to the statement that read 'Iraq is an Arab state and part of the Arab nation' pointing out that there are other ethnic groups that would be offended. So the statement was struck out -- as if by a magic wand disregarding the other constituents of the Iraqi population. Arabs constitute 84% of the population."
The Washington Post's Amit R. Paley noted then (September 12th), "The face-off between the Iraqi army and pesh merga has stoked fears of Arab-Kurdish strife just as Iraqis begin to recover from years of sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis." The Foreign Relations Minister of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government), Falah Mustafa Bakir, disputed that in a letter to the Post published Sept. 18th where he maintained that "the city was peaceful until Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent Iraqi military forces there last month in an unwelcome and unnecessary provocation that sparked demonstrations by tens of thousands of residents. This aggressive act caught the Kurdistan regional leadership by surprise, given that it occurred around the time that the KRG and other Iraqi parties had nearly reached agreement on a provincial election law, a key Iraqi benchmark. Since then, the election law has stalled, and the KRG has negotiated with Baghdad for the redeployment of some Kurdish pesh merga forces, as noted in the article." That's a curious re-writing of history. The Iraqi military moved into Diyala Province on July 29th and the Kurdish lawmakers walked out of parliament over the issue of Kirkuk and provincial elections July 23rd. From the July 23rd snapshot: "Turning to Iraq and starting with the latest in the provincial elections bill -- CNN reports it has been rejected today. Yesterday, the Kurdish bloc in the Iraqi Parliament staged a walk-out over a bill regarding the alleged provincial elections that allegedly would take place October 1st. The walk-out means the already much postponed provinicial elections may be postponed further. . . . Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) focuses on the struggle for the oil-rich Kirkuk, 'The disagreement centered on the multiethnic city of Kirkuk, one of several areas in Iraq where there are competing claims over which province a city or district belongs in. The question for Kirkuk is whether it should be absorbed into the Kurdistan region -- a particularly charged question because the city sits on some of the largest unexploited oil reserves in the country. Both Arabs and Kurds lay claim to the area. At bottom, the disagreement is also about the ethnic identity of Iraq and about Arab frustration with the Kurds. Although the Kurds are a minority, they have proved adept at turning the political process to their advantage, often to the chagrin of larger ethnic and religious groups'." The walkout took place the 23rd, the move into Diyala began the 29th. At best Falah Mustafa Baker has his dates mixed up. Possibly due to traipsing around DC last week insisting "The KRG is part of the solution, not the problem, in meeting these Iraqi benchmarks" to the administration, the Pentagon and the State Dept. Last week, UPI reported that despite Massoud Barzani's denials (he's the Kurdish prime minister) last week that there were no intentions to take over Diyala Province, the week prior he "pointed out that 99 percent of the Khanaqin population had voted in favor of Kurdish parties in 2005, suggesting the area would be incorporated into Kurdistan once constitutional issues over the Kurdish territories were resolved."
From possible conflict between warring sides to known conflict. Maggie Fox (Reuters) reported late Friday on a UCLA study which argues, via satellite imagery, that the small drop in Baghdad violence can be attributed not to the 'surge' (escalation of US troops) but to the ethnic cleansing/violence which created the Iraqi refugee crisis (resulting in more than 4 million refugees -- external and internal): "The images support the view of international refugee organizations and Iraq experts that a major population shift was a key factor in the decline in sectarian violence, particularly in the Iraqi capital, the epicenter of the bloodletting in which hundreds of thousands were killed." The study is published in Environment and Planning A, [PDF format warning] John Agnew, Thomas W. Gillespie, Jorge Gonzalez and Brian Min's "Baghdad nights: evaluting the US military 'surge' using nighttime light signatures" which notes at the start:
In this commentary we attempt to intervene in a way that applies some fairly objective and unobtrusive measures to a particularly contentious issue: the question of whether or not the so-called 'surge' of US military personnel into Baghdad -- 30000 more troops added in the first half of 2007 -- has turned the tide against political and social instability in Iraq and laid the groundwork for rebuilding an Iraqi polity following the US invasion of March 2003. Even though the US media attention on the Iraq war has waned, the conflict remains a material and symbolic issue of huge significance for both future US foreign policy and the future prospects of Iraq as an effective state.
In this paper we use remotely sensed information, specifically nighttime light imagery of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, and correlate this, as best possible, with group-based information on ethnic distributions and violence by neighborhood.
Our purpose is to assess the degree to which the overall nighttime light signature of the city and its distribution across neighborhoods have changed during the period of the surge. If the surge has truly 'worked' we would expect to see a steady increase in nightime light output over time, as electrical infrastructure is repaired and restored, with little discrimination across neighborhoods. The sistuation in other cities is used as a datum against which to compare the Baghdad trend. Most of the other cities we examing have typically had much lower levels of ethnic intermixture and levels of violence than Baghdad.
And skipping further ahead:
The overall nighttime light signature of Baghdad since the US invasion appears to have increased between 2003 and 2006 and then declined dramatically from 20 March 2006 through December 2007 (table 1). In other words, the period of the surge coincides with a decline in the nightime light of the city after an increase following the invasion and before the onset of the surge. This result can be stated with a high degree of statistical confidence (Mann - Whitney U-test, P < 0.001). The city as a whole, therefore, experienced a net decrease in its electricity output over the course of the surge. This was not just temporary, and thus cannot be put down to military operations disrupting supplies, because the end date of 16 December 2007 is well after the most intensive military sweeps in the city."
The second result is that the decrease in the nighttime light signature was not uniformly distributed across the city (table 2; figures 3 and 4). The neighborhoods of East and West Rashid int he southwestern section of the city have experienced the greatest decline in nighttime lights during the period of the surge. These were historically mixed areas with a predominance of Sunnis, but between 2006 and 2007 they become highly segregated with signficant loss of total population (Jones, 2007). The nighttime light intensity was also lower after the surge in Adhamiya (historically a Sunni area), Kadamiya (historically Shia), Rusfa, and Karada (historically mixed and/or Sunni neighborhoods). However, there was no change or an increase in nighttime lights in Sadr City (one of the poorest areas of the city but overwhelmingly Shia), New Baghdad (heavily Shia), Karkh (Green Zone), and Al Mansour (historically mixed but by late 2007 heavily Sunni in its western periphery). This pattern of declines correlates closely with the map of ethno-sectarian violence and neighborhood ethnic cleansing presented in the Jones Report (2007) (figure 5). Must of this was concentrated in the western and southwestern sections of the city before and during the surge.
And skipping further ahead:
Our findings suggest that in these terms the surge has had no observable effect, except insofar as it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved but with a tremendous decline in the extent of residential intermixing between groups and a probable significant loss of population in some areas. That is the message we take from the nighttime light data we have presented. Furthermore, the nighttime light signature of Baghdad data when matched with ground data provided by the report to the US Congress by Marine Corps General Jones and various other sources, makes it clear that the diminished level of violence in Iraq since the onset of the surge owes much to a vicious process of interethnic cleansing. This might resume if US forces withdraw. But as the case we have made strongly implies, the massive residential segregation and population loss happened anyway even when US forces were present in increased numbers. Perhaps they are not as central to events in Baghdad and Iraq as US government and popular opinion seems to believe. They certainly have not been over the past two years.
Meanwhile want a vacation spot that's cholera adjacent? Sunday Erica Goode and Riyadh Mohammed (New York Times) reported the chair of the country's Board of Tourism, Humoud Yakobi, who plans to use the isle of Jazirat A'aras (conviently located in proximity to the Green Zone, which also puts it in walking distance from various drive-bys and bombings) into a one-stop resort with "hotels, restaurants and shopping malls" -- in fact, "'a six-star hotel,' spas, a yacht club, an amusement park, a shopping center and luxury villa". Readers of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism will no doubt flash on other areas where the US brought 'democracy' -- slums alongside vast wealth, shopping malls built ontop of torture chambers. And Yakobi just needs some (gullible) investors willing to help him stake his claim. As Goode and Mohammed observe, "Some might argue that Mr. Yakobi's vision is premature, if not absurd." They also inform that Yakobi is jazzed over a November conference (in Baghdad) that will "promote the island . . . and other projects. Those include a hotel expected to open soon in the ancient city of Babylon in Babel Province, where cholera cases have recently been reported." Another Baghdad conference! Wait. The planned October oil conference (Iraq's Energy Expo and Conference) was cancelled. Because the convention center wasn't complete. Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported that the isle is "a slab of land surrounded by water from the Tigris River". That would be the highly polluted Tigris River (remember in 2004 when the New York Times actually bothered to report on that?). Susman explains, "Before a sometimes skeptical crowd of mainly Iraqi journalists, the head of the tourism board, Hamood Yakoubi, said the resort, whose name translates to Wedding Island, would be modeled on the "One Thousand and One Nights" tales. Not that King Shahryar, Scheherezade, Sinbad or Alladin had Ferris wheels, fast-food restaurants or a water park to entertain them. But Yakoubi and Ahmed Ridha, the chairman of the government's National Investment Commission, said the point was to give visitors a feel for ancient Baghdad while providing five-star service and amenities."
Meanwhile Royal Dutch Shell is in Iraq. Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports that, having signed their "multibillion-dollar natural gas deal with the Iraq government" today, the corporation makes its "official return to Iraq after 36 years." In other suspected crimes, AP reports that First Lt Michael C. Behenna's court-martial began yesterday and that he is alleged to have carried an Iraqi prisoner "to a remote desert location," disrobed the prisoner, shot the prisoner "in the head and chest and then watching as another soldier set fire to the body with an incendiary grenade". Appearing at the court-martial was "Harry," an Iraqi translator, who states he was an eye witness to the alleged crimes.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad car bombings claimed 2 lives and injured ten people and a Baghdad mortar attack claimed 1 life and wounded four more. Reuters notes a Mosul bombing that claimed the lives of 5 children (and injured two people).
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) drops back to Sunday to report 2 Iraqi soldiers shot dead in Nineveh Province.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered in Mosul. Reuters also notes "tens of bodies" discovered outside Baquba in "mass graves" and a corpse was discovered in Suwayra.
Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division -- Baghdad Soldier died as a result of a small-arms fire attack on his patrol at approximately 11 a.m. in Baghdad." The death raises the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4169 with 18 for the month of September thus far.
Turning to the US presidential race. Leonard Doyle (Independent of London) reports that GOP vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin campaigned in Lady Lake, Florida over the weekend and "as many as 60,000 people turned out". John McCain is the GOP presidential nominee and the ticket has been packing in audiences. Matt Lira (JohnMcCain.com) posted a photo of the crowd that turned out in Blaine, Minnesota for McCain and Palin and that's a huge crowd. Staying with the GOP ticket, [language warning] Melissa McEwan (Shakesville) asks, "Why Sandra Berhnard, why?" She's referring to Bernhard's 'comedy' routine in which she wished rape upon Governor Palin. McEwan notes, "There is video at the link, should you be so inclined. It does not include her comment that Palin 'would be gang raped by blacks in Manhattan,' so I have no idea what the specific context is for that line--although I quite honestly can't imagine a context in which it would be anything less than deeply misogynist and racist. I also can't imagine a person as clever as Bernhard has always struck me to be honestly believing that making fun of a woman's appearance and calling her a b**ch and a w**re is somehow "edgy." That s**t's about as cutting edge as the f**king wheel, okay?" Former president Bill Clinton appeared on ABC's The View today and, asked about sexism in this election cycle, stated, "I think a lot of it is almost subconscious and that maybe makes it more insidious. I think we have become because what we've been through the last forty to fifty years more sensitive to our own tendancy to be racially insensitive or to be discramatory. I think that the perceptions we have about men and women and their roles and what they should do and how people should feel threatened or not by this or that or the other thing, I think that's a lot harder to unpack. Do I think there was some of it in the election? I do. And it's interesting. I noticed in West Viriginia was the only place I saw election polls. They actually asked voters if Senator Obama's race or Hillary's gender had anything to do with their voting. And 15% said yes to race and 20% said yes to gender. And I actually thought that was a good thing and I'll tell you why. Because it showed that there was a certain self-awareness about this. You know, if you will sort of 'fess up to where you're coming from then you can talk about it."
Now, if you're nodding, stop. Stop and think about when Hillary won West Virginia. What followed? Non-stop ravings from Panhandle Media (print and broadcast -- on the latter, Philip Maldari has been among the worst) about that poll (which they never seem to have studied) and what it said about . . . race. Gender was included in the polling and the response to gender was larger. But it's cute the way that fell out of the conversation, right? Let's fall back to June:
Katie Couric: Over the last week it's been almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or turn on a cable show and avoid the endless post-mortems on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Senator Clinton has received her fair share of the blame and so has her political team. But, like her or not, one of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life -- particularly in the media. Many women have made the point that if Senator Obama had to confront the racist equivalent of an "Iron My Shirt!" poster at campaign rallies or a Hillary nutcracker sold at airports or mainstream pundints saying they instictively cross their legs at the mention of her name, the outrage would not be a footnote, it would be front page news. It isn't just Hillary Clinton who needs to learn a lesson from this primary season, it's all the people who crossed the line -- and all the women and men who let them get away with it. That's a page from my Notebook, I'm Katie Couric, CBS News.
The continued and accepted role of sexism in American life -- particularly in the media.
And no one demonstrated that as well as Panhandle Media. And continues to demonstrate it while avoiding real issues as much as they avoid Ralph Nader (who is about real issues). Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate. Emily Przekwas of Team Nader notes:
William Greider put it best yesterday when he called Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's upcoming bailout of Wall Street: "All sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims."
"As I have been saying for several months, this crisis has the potential to bring down one or both political parties, take your choice," Greider said.
And investment analyst Christopher Whalen chimed in:
"The joyous reception from Congressional Democrats to Paulson's latest massive bailout proposal smells an awful lot like yet another corporatist lovefest between Washington's one-party government and the Sell Side investment banks."
Strip aside the rhetoric of the two major parties.
And what is left is one party devoted to Wall Street.
Who represents Main Street?
So, why is that when the Presidential debates open this Friday, only Wall Street will be in the ring?
And the man who predicted the disaster of deregulation is out?
Because the Commission on Presidential Debates is controlled by the two parties and funded by the corporations.
That's why we're sponsoring a National Day of Action to Open the Debates.
This Thursday, September 25, 2008, the day before the first debate.
Once again the Commission intends to silence the majority of Americans by shutting out Nader/Gonzalez from the debates.
We're asking all of our supporters to get ready.
Because on Thursday, there are four ways you can take action to Open Up the Debates.
Letters to the editor, to your friends, family and anyone in your address book, companies and corporations who sponsor the presidential debates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, Obama and McCain Campaigns, Talk Shows, Newspapers, and National and Local Media Outlets.
Posters, fliers and literature to pass out and hang up at college campuses and other high traffic areas and banners to display to morning and evening rush hour traffic -- Check out our "Open the Debates" section on the website for downloadable materials.
Outside the Democratic and Republican headquarters in your community, at corporations that sponsor the debates, at radio stations, newspapers and media outlets not covering Ralph Nader.
(Phone numbers, e-mails and addresses will be available tomorrow at votenader.org/debates.)
Many Americans believe they are getting the full story when they tune into the televised and highly publicized debates.
What people don't see is that behind the scenes the debates are controlled by a corporate funded entity.
Third party and independent candidates are arbitrarily required to be polling at 15% according to five national polls in order to participate in the debates, even though these third parties are forced to devote all resources to get on the ballot in all 50 states during the months leading up to the debates -- costing well over a million dollars!
Who decides who gets into the debates?
The so-called "non-partisan" Commission (as described by the New York Times today). Non-partisan? Headed by Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, the former heads of the Democratic and Republican parties?
Since the media blithely adopts the framing of the corporate parties, we must take it upon ourselves to expose the Commission on Presidential Debates as the real spoiler of the democratic system in this country.
Just recently Green party candidate Elizabeth May was included into the debates in Canada.
Massive e-mailing, phone calls, and letters to the editor, including one from former Prime Minister Joe Clark, displaying public outrage prompted the debate commission to invite Elizabeth May to participate.
So on Thursday, take action.
And then send us your videos and photos and we'll post them on our Open the Debates page.
And here is something you can do right now.
We're in the middle of our Three Way Race fundraising drive.
And if you donate $100 now, we'll ship to you a copy of The Ralph Nader Reader, a 441-page collection of Ralph's writings on Wall Street vs. Main Street, the battle for democracy, the corporate state, and our hyper-commercialized culture. If you donate $100 now, we will send you this historic collection -- autographed by the man himself -- Ralph Nader. (This offer ends at 11:59 p.m. September 30, 2008.)
Onward to November