Thursday, September 25, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, September 25, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, more on what the Iraqi Parliament passed, the KRG wants a federation and not a nation, and more. 
Yesterday came news of legislation passed by the Iraqi Parliament regarding provincial elections.  Provincial elections was one the 18 benchmarks for Iraq.  As US House Rep Lloyd Doggett reminded in last week's House Budget Committee hearing, "All of us remember, except maybe President Bush, that in January of 2007, he selected the benchmarks, the guidelines by which to measure success, by which to measure victory in Iraq and when we sought an analysis so we would have an objection information instead of just the propaganda from the administration about whether those benchmarks had been met, the Congress turned to the Government Accountability Office."  The White House set the benchmarks.  The benchmarks were not imposed upon the White House.  In July of 2007, the White House issued a press release declaring, "On January 23, 2007, the COR passed the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Law, which the Presidency Council (the President and two Deputy Presidents) approved on February 27, 2007. On April 28, 2007, the COR [Council of Representatives] appointed the nine IHEC Commissioners in a process that the U.N. deemed fair and transparent. The Commissioners have completed appropriate training and are in the process of selecting representatives to oversee elections in the provinces. A Provincial Powers Law that defines the authorities and structures of local governments has been read twice in the COR, but changes are being considered, particularly related to the powers of the governor and the reach of the central government at the local level. At the highest levels, the Embassy is urging the Iraqi Government to take the legislative and administrative action necessary to ensure timely and fair elections. The Embassy is intensively engaged with the GOI and the COR at all levels to expedite legislation or amendments to existing legislation that will allow provincial elections to take place. New legislation or amendments to the existing law are required to set a date and secure funding for elections, as well as to establish the electoral system to be used for the vote, among other issues."
Nearly two years after defining the 18 benchmarks, the one on provincial elections may be met . . . after Bully Boy leaves office.  Yesterday the Parliament did pass legislation; however, as Erica Goode (New York Times) points out, "The law still must be approved by the three-member presidential panel led by President Jalal Talabani" who vetoed provincial election legislation passed in July.  Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmad (Los Angeles Times) observe, "The bill's passage came with some major hurdles attached, at least one of which was described as a 'very dark' cloud by the United Nations' special representative, Staffan de Mistura.  That issue involves the northern city of Kirkuk, which Kurdish leaders want as part of the semiautonomous Kurdistan region.  The city's Sunni Arab and Turkmen populations oppose the idea. All the groups had feared that holding provincial elecitons now in Tamim, whose capital is Kirkuk, would deny them the power they seek in the oil-rich region, so the decision was made to postpone voting there."  The hurdles, Sudarsan Raghaven (Washington Post) reports, were largely overcome via "a compromise brokered by the United Nations that calls for the creation of a parliamentary committee to review the status of Kirkuk" and that "14 of Iraq's 18 privnces" will hold elections "by Jan. 31" provided the presidential council signs off on the legislation.  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) adds, "They will mark the first elections in almost four years and will give the clearest indication yet of different parties' strength before a general election next year."  But, if signed off on, it will most likely take place after the US' next president is sworn in -- a point the State Dept's Robert Wood appears unwilling to concede.  Speaking at a press briefing in DC yesterday, Deputy Spokesperson Wood declared, "We congratulate the Iraqi Parliament for passing the provincial elections law.  We think this is a positive sign and certaingly shows a maturing Iraqi democracy.  And we hope that there'll be provincial elections held as soon as possible, certainly before the end of the year.  And -- But I'd refer you to the Iraqis for further comment on their process.  I do believe, though, it goes to the presidency council -- that seems to be the next stage."  On the issue of Kirkuk, Wood refused to comment stating that "these are issues that have to be worked out by the Iraqis themselves."  Robert Schlesinger (US News & World Reports) offers of the legislation passing, "This should be good news, right?  Well, except for the fact that the government punted on the most contentious issues."
Staying with the State Dept but unrelated to Iraq, today US Secretary of State Condi Rice spoke at the Women Leaders Working Group, which met in NYC, and her speech included the following:
I want briefly to report on what the United States has done since last year's meeting. This May, the Department of State launched a public-private partnership called the "One Woman Initiative" that focuses on justice, opportunity, and leadership. With a $100 million infusion of cash from private donors and the federal government, this international women's empowerment fund is based on the premise that the world benefits when even one woman is empowered. And with a duration of five years, the fund is initially focused on women in countries with significant Muslim populations. I am particularly proud to note that the first grants will be awarded in November.  
On the issue of Women and Justice, we convened the State Department's first Senior Roundtable for Women's Justice this past March. It focused on violence against women and access to justice. This remarkable forum brought together U.S. judges with those from 20 countries to exchange ideas and best practices, and I was delighted that Sandra Day O'Connor was the keynoter for that. 
I'm also pleased to announce that this fall, as a direct result of the roundtable, the United States will provide training to 23 federal judges of Malawi on issues relating to violence against women. And it should be noted that the Women and Justice Center is being created at Cornell University's Law School to serve as a comprehensive resource center to create a network for judges around the globe.  
Finally, I want to note that one of our most life-changing efforts came this past June with the passage of UN Security Resolution -- Council Resolution 1820, which seeks to end sexual violence against women during armed conflict. The resolution goes a step further by noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or an act with respect to genocide. 
That provides us with the chance to again note last weekend's NOW on PBS which explored women and politics in a special one-hour broadcast that found correspondent Maria Hinojosa examining the situations in the US, Chile and Rwanda.  The program is available for streaming online.  On Rwanda, Dominique Soguel and Jennifer Thurston (WeNews) reported Saturday, "Rwanada is the first nation in the world where women outnumber men in parliament after legislative elections Sept. 18.  Women now account for at least 55 percent of the lower chamber in Rwanda, according to provisional results.  Previously, they held 48 percent of the seats."  Soguel and Thurston's report is also available in audio form.
Back to Iraq, UPI reports that Falah Mustafa, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Foreign Relations chief officer has stated, "The Kurdish leadership, including the government of the region, is determined to use dialogue as its method and remind others that today's Iraq is not the Iraq of previous regimes, but a federal, democratic, pluralistic ountry and that the Kurds are major partners in the political process."  He is advocating a federalized Iraq.  Which will remind some of the Kurdish pesh merga's refusal to allow the Iraqi military into some sections of Diyala Province.  Yesterday saw an attack in Diyala Province.  Italy's AGI explains, "The balance of yesterday's attack north-east of Baghdad has worsened, arriving at 35 dead."  Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) explains the dead were "a joint force of National Police officers and members of the local Awakening Council".  McClatchy Newspapers' Corinne Reilly and Hussein Kadhim sketch out what is thought to have happened, "Police said the battalion entered the village thinking it was safe because the area had recently been raided and cleared.  But soon after the battalion arrived, the gunmen opened fire in a wooded area.  It's unclear how many attackers were involved.  None of them was killed, officials said."  Citing the mayor and a security official, AFP also notes the death toll of 35 and breaks it down to 12 police officers and eight "Awakening" Council members killed on the scene with 15 injured police officers transferred to a hospital who "were dead on arrival."  China's Xinhua also goes with 35 dead and cites an unnamed source in Ministry of the Interior.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 Baghdad roadside bombing wounded nineteen people and claimed 2 lives, a Baghdad bombing left three people injured and a Baquba roadside bombing that claimed 3 lives.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person ("employee in the Ministry of Municiplaities and Works") was shot in Baghdad.  China's Xinhua reports that five people (suspected "insurgents") were killed by Iraqi forces in Diyala Province today in the midst of a raid.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 3 corpses discovered in Baghdad.
 Today the US military announced: "A Multi-National Division - North Soldier was killed by a suicide bomber while conducting operations in Diyala, Iraq Sept. 24." The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4172 with 21 for the month thus far.
Meanwhile AP reports 327 case -- confirmed cases -- of cholera in Iraq. At a time when the Iraqi people may not be able to count on the UN comes the news that another supporter of the people is in question. Amit R. Paley and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports:
"The Iraqi Red Crescent, the country's leading humanitarian organization, has been crippled by allegations of embezzlement and mismanagement, including what Iraqi officials call the inappropriate expenditure of more than $1 million on Washington lobbying firms in an unsuccessful effort to win U.S. funding.  The group's former president, Said I. Hakki, an Iraqi American urologist recruited by Bush administration officials to resuscitate Iraq's health-care system, left the country this summer after the issuance of arrest warrants for him and his deputies. He and his aides deny the allegations and call them politically motivated."
Turning to the US presidential race.  Yesterday The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric featured part one of an interview (link has text and video) with Governor Sarah Palin (part-two airs tonight), the GOP vice presidential candidate.  Howard Kurtz (Washington Post) thinks he's found a mis-step in Palin's remarks, specifically in this section: "So, again, I believe that . . . a surge in Afghanistan also will lead us to victory there as it has proven to have done in Iraq.  And as I say, Katie, that we cannot afford to retreat, to withdraw in Iraq."  Kurtz offers, "The vice-presidential nominee may have misspoken in an attempt to say that President Bush's military surge in Iraq has been a success, but she did not qualify her remarks."  While she may have misspoken, there's nothing in her remarks that indicates she has.  In fact, her remarks are perfectly in keeping with top-of-the-ticket GOP nominee John McCain.  In the last months McCain has repeatedly declared victory in Iraq but the press has rarely paid attention.  There was some attention to his May 15th speech in Ohio which included, "The Iraq War has been won.  Iraq is a function democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension.  Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.  Civil war has been prevented; militias disbanded; the Iraqi Security Force is professional and competent . . ."  Speech in full (text and video) at the McCain-Palin 2008 website.  Based on that and other speeches McCain has given over the summer, there is nothing inconsistent with Palin's answer.  (I don't happen to agree with her or McCain.  That's not the issue.  The issue is did she know what she was saying?  Why assume she didn't?  No one assumed he didn't, now did they?  McCain's repeatedly made those type of remarks and there's been no questioning of them.)  Let's stay with McCain's remarks for a moment because they have been noted in the snapshots.  McCain's statements on withdrawal are that most US servicemembers would be out by 2013.  What is "most"?  That's why the press should have focused on his repeated statements that the Iraq War had been "won."  (We're not going into the nonsense of 100-years which was a deliberate distortion of what McCain said.)  Presumably, McCain favors US service members stationed at the US Embassy in Iraq -- US service members are stationed at all US embassies.  What else does he support?  That's where the press has failed by refusing to explore.  And the most important question is: "If the war is won, why are US troops still in Iraq and when will they begin leaving?"  McCain's actually not fenced in with his remarks and the questions wouldn't be "gotcha" in nature.  He can sincerely believe the Iraq War has been won.  (I obviously disagree and do not think the illegal war can be won.)  But, as was pointed out in numerous snapshots, when you declare the war won then you're obligated to address what happens next.  That's where the press has been lax.  He, or Palin, can believe the Iraq War has been won.  They can still favor a US presence there (beyond the US Embassy).  They might argue that the provincial elections require US presence.  They might argue other things in addition.  But to know what they're going to say, they need to be asked. And they need to be listened to. Corey Flintoff (NPR) has apparently had McCain filtered through some 'left' voice which would explain this misrepresentation, "McCain has opposed any timetable for withdrawing troops, but he has suggested recently that if conditions warrant, he might reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq by as much as half by the end of his first term in office."  While McCain has stated an opposition to timetables, he has stated most US service members would be out of Iraq by 2013 if he was elected president.  While he hasn't been pressed to define "most," it is more than "as much as half" as Flintoff wrongly interprets.
Couric wasn't afraid to ask Palin questions yesterday.  She wasn't afraid to ask Barack questions in July though there was mock outrage over that from those that don't know the first thing about journalism.  From the interview:
Couric: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?

Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie - that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

Couric: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

Palin: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.
Part two airs tonight.  Cynthia McKinney is the Green Party presidential candidate and she notes of the economic meltdown: "The crisis does not have to be treated as merely a 'market correction,' or the result of a few rotten appels in an otherwise pristine barrel.  This crisis truly represents the opportunity to introduce fundamental changes in the way the U.S. economy and its political stewards operate.  Responsible political leadership demands that the pain and suffering being experienced by the innocent today not be revisted upon them or the next generation tomorrow. But sadly, instead of affirmative action being taken in this direction, the Bush Administration ratches up the drumbeat for war, Republican Party operatives busily remove duly-registered voters from the voter rolls, and our elected leaders in the Congress go home to campaign while leaving all of us to fend for ourselves.  For the Administration and the Democrat-led Congress, I declare: MISSION UNACCOMPLISHED.  For the public whose moment this is, I say: Power to the People!"
McKinney's running mate Rosa Clemente will be speaking at the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) Saturday, September 27th.  Cynthia, Ralph Nader, Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin have all offered to appear at the presidential debate scheduled Friday.  McCain has called off his appearance there.  Whether that changes or not, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has insisted he will be there.  McCain has stated that the focus should be on addressing the economic meltdown via the Congress.  Barack has stated, "It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess.  Part of the president's job is to deal with more than one thing at once."  Some foolish left and 'left' types have applauded that nonsense.  They're mistaken for several reasons including (a) the next president will not be sworn in until January (not on election day) and (b) great line . . . if you're John Edwards.  Edwards, you may recall, is not in the Senate.  Edwards could have made that line.  The response to Barack is, "Part of a sitting senator's job is to deal with more than one thing at once" including, you know, actually tending to the business you were elected to address in the 2004 election.  Equally true is that Barack's cancelled debates over the last 12 months.  Not just refused to accept offers, but cancelled debates.  The December 10th debate to be aired by CBS was cancelled by Democratic presidential candidates -- including Barack -- due to the writers' strike.  April 27th, and we're back to CBS again, Barack, and only Barack, cancelled the North Carolina Democratic Party presidential debate.  It was to be Barack and Hillary Clinton but Barack had bombed in the ABC debate the week before.  Staying with the Christ-child for a moment more, garychapelhill (The Confluence) notes Barack's latest, "Barack Obama is a bigot.  He has just launched a 'Faith, Family, Values Tour' which will feature Douglas Kmiec, a supporter of Proposition 8, a consitutional ban to California's legal gay marriage. Obama thinks that gay people can be used to help him get elected and then stab them in the back before they even get to the voting booth.   And you know what?  he's probably right.  That's because the largest gay rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, has been giving it up for free since they endorsed Obama, despite his long list of homophobic friends and associates."  He used homophobia to win North Carolina, why not use homphobia in the general?  It's not like his supposed 'progressive' followers called him out.  Laura Flanders, Amy Goodman, et al. didn't say one damn word.  And they're not saying a word now.
Of Barack and McCain and the potential Friday debate, Steve Conn (Dissident Voice) points out, "In their public statements, the two major party Presidential candidates and their corporate advisors scramble to avoid blame.  On Friday [. . .], these two candidates will debate.  The good citizen who warned of the impending crime, who is also a Presidential candidate), has not been invited.  According to the debate commission, funded by the two major parties, the rules don't allow it.  But, given his uniquely prescient warning to America, shouldn't he be allowed to say a few words about the crime?"
Conn is referring to to independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader who called out the Congressional response on Democracy Now! today, "I don't think the Democrats show any nerve that they are going to do anything but cave here. And the statements by Nancy Pelosi are not reassuring, which is, 'Well, it's the Republicans' bill, you know. Let them take responsibility for it.' That doesn't work. She's the Speaker of the House. The Democrats have got to say, 'Slow down. We're not going to be stampeded into this bill by Friday or Saturday. We're going to have very, very thorough hearings.' Otherwise, it's another collapse, at constitutional levels, of the Congress before King George IV."  Amy Goodman continued to trivialize Ralph's run by asking, in her fifth toss to him, "And, Ralph Nader, would you consider, given the stakes of this election, encouraging your supporters in swing states to vote for Barack Obama?"  Goodman hasn't had a sit down with Barack but she has interviewed him and she never asked him that question.  Goodman should answer why she thinks an independent candidate should fold up their campaign for the benefit of one of the 'majors'?  She should then be asked, in light of the layoffs in the news business, if she'd consider telling viewers in 'swing states' to watch CBS, NBC or ABC and stop watching her 'independent' program?
Ralph's response included: "I'm not at all impressed by Barack Obama's positions on this so-called bailout. It's just rhetoric. His Senate record has not reflected that at all.
As we campaign around the country--we're now in forty-five states plus the District of Columbia, and we're running five, six, seven percent in the polls, which is equivalent to nine, ten million eligible voters--we are going to try to rouse the public in a specific way: laser-beam focus on their senators and representatives. When these senators and representatives, if they allow this bailout deal in this general, vague manner to pass, when they go back home, they're going to hit hornets' nest. This is a situation where it doesn't matter whether the people back home are Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Nader-Gonzalez supporters. There's such a deep sense of betrayal, of panic, of stampede, of surrender, of cowardliness in Congress, that it's going to affect the election and the turnout. I'd like Barack Obama, actually, to support the Nader-Gonzalez ticket."
At the Nader - Gonzalez website, attorney Greg Kafoury explains:

Senator McCain has suspended his campaign in order to return to Washington to work on the proposed bailout situation.  McCain said, "We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved."  The Nader campaign wishes to point out that more than a third of registered voters are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and that Ralph Nader is registering between 5 and 8 percent in many major states, including swing states.  Is Senator McCain suggesting that only Republicans or Democrats are entitled to be heard on the most important domestic political crises in the last 70 years?  If the future of all Americans is at stake in the current crisis, shouldn't all Americans have representatives at the table?  We suggest that Mr. Nader, former Congressman Barr and any others who show significant levels of popular support should be included in any gatherings that are convened to resolve this crisis.  
Further, the fact that the
Presidential debates scheduled for this Friday can be simply canceled by the Republican nominee shows the extent to which the debate commission is nothing but a creature of the two major parties, designed largely for the purpose of excluding third parties and independent candidacies form having a voice in our most vital public forum.  We call upon Senators McCain and Obama to recognize that we are all in this together, and to give representatives of the entire American electorate a seat at the table and a voice in the debates.
Meanwhile, New York's NOW president Marcia Pappas (Women's Outlook NOW) breaks down the realities about the feminist movement and political parties -- a breakdown that is overdue since so many seem to have forgotten the historical basics -- and offers, "We have become too attached to a political party. Leaders in my movment have cozzied up to the party operatives in DC and we have lost what little power we had. This is the reason why we are having trouble gaining them back.  There is no time like the present to detach from an abuser. I believe that political parties that take constituents for granted eventually end up abusing them more and more. This is what has happened over time.  It is high time that we pull ourselves away and hold every single politician's feet to the fire."