Monday, October 27, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 27, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Iraq has new 'neighbor problems,'  Dana Perino will not comment -- she won't -- she really, really won't, Iraqi Christians get some global attention and more.
Iraq has serious problems with its neighbors.  Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that northern Iraq was bombed by Turkey today and last night. The tensions between Turkey and the northern region of Iraq have been ongoing.  World Bulletin News reports a political development that emerged last week and was little noticed, US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama weighed in with an announcement at his campaign website last week which spoke of "resotring the strategic partnership with Turkey" and in which he said, "That relationship has been deeply strained in recent years, most importantly by the Bush administration's misguided and mismanaged intervention in Iraq, which has helped revive the militanst threat posed to Turkey by the PKK. . . . Barack Obama and Joe Biden will lead a diplomatic effort to bring together Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders and negotiate a comprehensive agreement that deals with the PKK threat, guarantees Turkey's territorial integrity, and facilitates badly needed Turkish investment in and trade with the Kurds of nothern Iraq."  How that will play out with some of Barack's Cult members in the US is unknown.  A number of them with outlets (especially in the northern west) have been public in their ardent support for the PKK.  Meanwhile Turkish Daily News reports that former CIA agent Charles Sam Faddis' book Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq asserts that, "Turkish soldiers and CIA teams were nearly involved in an armed clash during America's invasion of Iraq in 2003". 
Turkey is Iraq's northern neighbor and this week it takes second place on the tensions list.  Syria is Iraq's western neighbor (actually, northwestern).  Yesterday  Reuters reported that US and Iraqi officials were summed by the Syrian Foriegn Ministry following an attack which the Telegraph of London described as follows: "In an echo of the Israeli air strikes which last year targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, US military helicopters were reported to have crossed into Syria to drop troops who then executed the mission.
The state news agency Sana reported that eight civilians had been killed in the raid. 'Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 16:45 local time (1345 GMT) on Sunday,' it said.  'American soldiers' who had emerged from helicopters 'attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths. The helicopters then left Syrian territory towards Iraqi territory,' Sana said."  Tony Perry (Babylon and Beyond, Los Angeles Times) wondered, "Was the weekend raid a way for the U.S. to warn the insurgents, and their Syrian cohorts, that although the U.S. is retreating from the border, it is still on watch and able to strike?"  Today Ellen Knickmeyer and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) explained, "U.S. attacks inside Syria are extremely rare, though the U.S. military has stepped up security along Iraq's border with Syria in recent months to stem the traffic of fighters and weapons into Iraq. U.S. officials say many insurgents, particularly suicide bombers, arrive in Iraq via the Syrian border."   Reuters reports: "A deadly raid on the Syrian side of Iraq's border, blamed by Syria on the United States, targeted an area used by insurgents for attacks on Iraq, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Monday."  CNN cites Sgt Brooke Murphy as one military spokesperson stonewalling: "Unfortunately, we cannot confirm anything at the moment." Borzou Daragahi and Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) explain, "In Washington, several military representatives who were asked about the operation did not deny that a raid had taken place. Although they would not confirm the attack, they used language typically employed after raids conducted by secretive special operations forces."  AFP quotes an unnamed  "American official" who states "The operation was successful" and claims the attack was targeting a 'terrorist'. Martin Sieff (UPI) reminds, "Cross-border attacks in any conflict carry the risk of widening it uncontrollably. That is especially the case here, since Syria is the main Middle East ally of Iran, and tensions between the United States and Iran remain high over Tehran's drive to acquire long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. And the risks of escalation are far greater when ground troops are involved in the incident, not just airstrikes."
At the White House this morning, spokesperson Dana Perino repeatedly refused to comment although she did, at one point, invite the press to attempt to physically force a comment out of her. Here are Perino's responses to questions about the attack on Syria:
*"The United States government has not commented on reports about that and I'm not able to here either."  
*"I can't comment on it at all, no."
*"I'm not going to comment in any way on this; I'm not able to comment on that." 
*"I'm not going to comment on the reports about this, no, I'm not.  Anybody else?"
*"I'm not going to comment on it at all.  This could be a really short briefing."
*"I don't know.  I don't know." 
*"Jim, all I can tell you is that I am not able to comment on reports about this reported incident and I'm not going to do so.  You can come up here and try to beat it out of me, but I will not be commenting on this in any way, shape or form today."
*"I don't believe anybody is commenting on this at all."
*"To give you an answer to that would be commenting in some way on it and I'm not going to it."
"*I understand the reports are serious but it's not something I'm going to comment on in any way."
While the White House refuses to comment, all tongues are not being held.  Caroline Alexander and Thomas Penny (Bloomberg News) quotes Walid al-Moualem, Syria's Foreign Minister, stating, "We consider this criminal and terrorist aggression.  We put the responsibility on the American government and they need to investigate and return back to us with the result the investigation of why they did it."  Al Jazeera quotes al-Moualem stating, "All of them were unarmed and they are on the Syrian territories.  This killing of civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression.  The Americans do it in the daylight, this means it is not a mistake it is by determination, by planned determination. [Some sources spell the name differently such as Moullem and Muallem -- we're using the United Nations' spelling: Moualem.]  BBC informs that Syria's spokesperson Jihad Makdissi tells them the attack is "an outrageous crime and an act of aggression.  If [the US has] any proof of any insurgency, instead of applying the law of the jungle and penetrating, unprovoked, a sovereign country, they should come to the Syrians first and share this information." And Syria's reaction is not isolated.  Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim (Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times) report, "The pro-U.S. faction within the Lebanese government condemned the U.S. move. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused the U.S., which funds his military, of an 'unacceptable' violation of Syrian sovereignty. 'Any military attack against an Arab country or on a small country by a larger country is an act we reject,' said a statement issued by his office."  And the situation has created fallout outside of Syria.  Catherine Philp and Deborah Haynes (Times of London -- link has text and video) explain that "Britian and Syria cancelled a planned joint press conference of their foreign ministers in London today as the fall-out continued over an American military raid into Syrian territory that left eight civilians dead.  
"But Syria is problematic for me but, more importantly, for the Iraqis because it doesn't seem that there's much being done on the other side of the border to assist this country in terms of maintaing the border and the integrity of, you know, Iraqi sovereignty."  That may be the most recent statement on Syria from someone speaking on behalf of the US government.  US Gen John Kelly made that statement (from Iraq via videolink) in a press briefing at the Pentagon October 23, 2008.  Among his other comments regarding Syria was in noting a physical barrier was being constructed: "Syria, different story; it's a long border.  It's the longest border really.  There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years.  We're in the process of rebuilding.  And that's really at this point just building a large berm of sand and some ditching to keep certain vehicles from crossing the border and from the Jordanian border all the way up north.  And we're working our way north, past the Euphrates River."
Syria's Foreign Minister raised the issue of the treaty masquerading as a SOFA today, "Also the question arises here: Is this the production of the agreement between the administration and Iraq, the defensive agreement, where many Iraqis are saying that the sovereignty of Iraq is at stake and the American will use the Iraq's territories to launch aggression against neighbouring countries?  These are question marks."  A question mark is the Status Of Forces Agreement itself but Syria wasn't the only raising questions regarding the SOFA as a result of the attack on Sunday.  Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports Labi Abbawi (Iraq's Foreign Ministery undersecretary) stated, "We are trying to contain the fallout from the incident.  It is regrettable and we are sorry it happened," and that the attack will be used by "some . . . for the argument against the agreement."  Much arguing over the treaty in Iraq already.  Over the weekend, Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reported that puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki would not sign the treaty without "national consensus" according to Sheikh Jalal al Din al Sagheer.   The US reaction was not pretty.  Leila Fadel and Roy Gutman (McClatchy Newspapers) reported last night that the US was threatening to "shut down military operations and other vital services" in Iraq unless the treaty is signed off on and that Iraqis (rightly) see this as "political blackmail": "In addition to halting all military actions, U.S. forces would cease activities that support Iraq's economy, educational sector and other areas - "everything" - said Tariq al-Hashimi, the country's Sunni Muslim vice president. "I didn't know the Americans are rendering such wide-scale services."
The US attack on Syria wasn't the only one over the weekend with fall-out.  Al Jazeera reports that a US attack on Falluja Friday resulted in Saturday assertions by the Iraqi Islamic Party ("biggest Sunni Arab political party" and head by Iraq's Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi) stated there was a "hidden political motive" behind the killing of one Iraqi so, as a result, the party "suspended dealings with American military personnel and civilians".  Staying with Falluja, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction released a new report which included details of a sewage treatment plant for Falluja.  Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) explains how $100 million can be spent on doing nothing in Falluja: "Sewage continues to run in the streets, and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that the system may never be properly connected to individual homes, lacks the necessary fuel to operate and is unlikely to ever cover the full city."  Though budgeted for 32.5 million, the cost now stand at $98 million.  Kim Gamel and Pauline Jenkins (AP) add: "The report describes U.S. Embassy officials frozen in 'indecision' over how to finish and pay for the project. Last Nov. 2, 'after more than 15 months of meetings, briefing charts, official memorandums, and countless e-mail exchanges,' the report says, the officials decided to terminate outstanding contracts that were to be paid for by Iraqis and complete the remaining work with U.S. money, but make the project smaller."  Ernesto London (Washington Post) adds, "South Carolina-based FluorAMEC began work in July 2004. By September 2005, amid concerns over delays and unforeseen costs, the contract was terminated. U.S. officials awarded 45 contracts to Iraqi companies to finish the work. The report does not allege that money was stolen and does not fault FluorAMEC."  In related floundering, Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) examined the issue of what happens to Iraqi prisoners as Iraq takes over control of its own country, "Under the proposed new rules, the United States military would need Iraqi permission to make arrests and then would have to turn suspects over to the Iraqi authorities within 24 hours.  Less clear, however, is what will happen to those already in detention -- about 1,000 people in all."  And staying with corruption, Saturday James Risen (New York Times) covered a new finding by the Pentagon that KBR is in "serious contractual noncompliance" and the paper ads that there are more records about safety violations than were previously known (at least 18 lives have been lost due to electrical 'work' by US contractors in Iraq).
On the subject of crisis confronting Iraqi Christians, Pope Benedict XVI publicly addressed the crisis again yesterday.  Catholic News Agency reports:

Following Mass in St Peter's Basilica that concluded the Bishops' Synod, Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday defended Christians in Iraq and India who are "victims of intolerance and violence."
Greeting the thousands of faithful present in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father noted that the synodal assembly is a clear example of ecclesial communion because the Word of God, that is the person of Christ, is the center of attention. According to the meaning of the word "church," the Pope expounded, "We experienced the joy of being gathered around the Word."
Pope Benedict reflected on the relationship the Word of God and Sacred Scripture. The Second Vatican Council document Dei Verbum teaches that good biblical exegesis includes both the historical-critical method and the theological because "Sacred Scripture is the Word of God in human words." Each text must be read and interpreted remembering the "unity of Scripture, the living tradition of the Church and the light of faith." Scientific exegesis and lectio divina are both necessary and complementary to understand the spiritual meaning that "God wishes to communicate to us today."
Vatican Radio reported yesterday (audio link), "Pope Benedict announced today he will be visiting Cameroon and Angola in March of next year.  He was speaking during the final mass of the Senate of Bishops where he also appealed for the defense of Christian minorities in Iraq and India. Chris Altieri has this report."
Chris Altieri:  The Holy Father made the announcement in his homily during mass on the 30th Sunday during Ordinary Time in St. Peters Basilica which he celebrated with over three hundred bishops and priest con-celebrate to mark the closing of the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. After mass in St. Peters' Basilica, Pope Benedict prayed the Sunday Angelus with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.  In remarks before the Angelus Prayer, Pope Benedict spoke of the suffering of Christians in several places around the world especially recalling the persecutions of the faithful underway in Iraq and India. The Pope said he makes his own the appeal launched by the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches on the final day of Synod deliberations in which the pratriarchs sought to bring the tragedy underway in certain countries of the east to the attention of the international community of religious leaders and all persons of good will.  The Holy Father said Christians there are victims of intolerance and cruel violence. They're murdered, threatened and constrained to abandon their homes in search of refuge.   The Pope said that he's sure that the ancient and noble peoples of those countries where Christians are a minority have learned over the course of the centuries to appreciate the contribution the small but diligent and industrious communities of the faithful make to the common good. Pope Benedict called on civil and religious authorities in all nations to make every effort to ensure that the rule of law and civil concord be restored as quickly as possible and that honest citizens be able to count on adequate protection from the institutions of the state. In his homily, the Holy Father said that all those who participated in the work of the Synod will bring home the renewed knowledge that the Church's principle task at the start of this new millenium is above all to let itself be nourished by the word of God in order to make the new evangilazation more effective.  The Pope said it is now necessary that  the Ecclesiastical Experience of the Synod reach every community and that all the faithful must understand the need there is of translating the word we have heard into gestures of love because this is the only way to make the Gospel Proclamation credible despite human weaknesses that mark individuals.  I'm Chris Altieri.

Asia News also quotes the Pope declaring, "I am certain that the ancient and noble populations of these nations have learnt through centuries of respectful coexistence to appreciate the contribution made by the small but hard-working and skilled Christian minorities to the development of their common homeland. They do not ask for privileges; they only want to continue to live in their own country alongside with their fellow countrymen and women, as they have always done." Deborah Hayndes (Times of London) reports, "The mass exodus from Mosul, which was condemned yesterday by the Pope, has eased but many families remain too traumatised to follow the lead of Abu Masarra, 39, preferring to squat in monasteries and the spare rooms of houses in towns and villages to the north and east of the city.  Questions also remained about who carried out the attacks, which left more than a dozen Christian men dead and three houses destroyed. Allegations ranged from al-Qaeda fighters, who have killed Christians in the past, to power-hungry elements linked to the northernmost Kurdish region of Iraq. The Kurdish authorities denied any connection."  Luca Galassi (Italy's Peace Reporter) adds, "The attacks have motivations that are both religious and political. Anti-Christian pamphlets have surfaced in the city in recent days. Last Saturday, armed men blew up three houses owned by Christians in the al-Sukar district. The houses were empty: at least a thousand families have fled from Ninive province, an exodus which, according to the governor Duraid Kashmulah, is destined to continue, if not increase."  Lebanon's Daily Star editorializes, "There is another disturbing element to the latest round of ethnic cleansing to take place in Iraq since its government was overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2003: The loudest Arab voices trying to call attention to the crisis are here in tiny Lebanon, where Christian religious and political leaders have been joined by their Muslim counterparts, both Sunni and Shiite, in condemning the attacks and demanding action to stop them. That speaks well (for once) of this country's frequently divided elites, but it says something far less flattering about most of the Arab world. It will be recalled that during the run-up to the illegal invasion that led to years of bloodletting in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Western capitals and other cities to voice their rejection of the entire project. Most of them were Christians, and there they were standing up for the rights and interests of mostly Muslim Iraqis whose fates were about to be tossed into the maelstrom of war.Catholic Culture notes two other voices issuing calls -- Cardinal Emmanuel-Karim Delly ("patriarch of the Chaledean Catholic Church) declared of the international community, "Up to now you have been silent and you have not spoken about us despite all of the sufferings we have had to bear the past three or four years and more than half a century"; while Bishop Rabban Al Qas of Arbil "took a harder line, saying that the Iraqi government and its American defenders share the blame for allowing the intimidation to continue unchecked."  Kenneth Timmerman (Global Research) asserts, "The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has taken the Assyrian Christians in Ainkawa and in the Nineveh Plains hostage in their efforts to win more territory in the coming votes on the status of Mosul and Kirkuk.  On Oct. 17, Iraqi security forces arrested six men in connection with the most recent targeted killings of Christians, and found four of them had ties back to the KRG militia, not al Qaeda.  While Kurdish leaders protest they have made efforts to protect freedom of religion and have allowed evangelical Christians to proselytize in Muslim areas, nevertheless they are engaged in a cynical effort to use the Assyrian Christians as political pawns to expand their own power."
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attack on US service members in Baghdad which lead to a raid later in the day.  In some of the other reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 3 lives and left five wounded, another that left two wounded, a Baghdad 'sticky' bombing that claimed 2 lives and left seven injured and a Mosul car bombing that claimed the life of the driver and 1 police officer with two more police officers wounded.  Reuters notes a Dour roadside bombing that claimed 1 life (government employee) with six more wounded and a Tuz Khurmato bombing that claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Iraqi soldiers wounded in a Mosul shooting and 1 person shot dead in Mosul.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.  Reuters notes 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.
Turning to the US presidential race.  Ralph Nader is the independent presidential candidate and Matt Gonzalez is his running mate.  Team Nader's Loralynne Krobetzky is collecting "Breaking Point" stories for the campaign and shares this one today:
Ralph and Matt,

I just wanted to drop you a line from here in Florida. I am proud to have voted for you today. It is the first time I have voted since 1992…and I know that you represent me and millions of others who have been seeking truth and liberty. I voted in Lee County Florida and the turn-out at my precinct was in my estimation a record. I waited in line for aproximately 1 1/2 hours (which was well worth it) and as luck would have it there was a guy in from of who had an Obama button on. He asked me who I was voting for and I said, "I am voting for a third party." He said, "You can tell me, you're voting Nader right?" I thought OK I'll play his game.

He went on to ask me the obvious question. (I saw it coming--I was licking my chops!!) He asked me why I would vote for a candidate who can't win. I said because "today I am voting my conscience and not the Evil of two lessers." I told him I would not vote for either corporate candidate -- Obama or McCain. By the time I was through explaining to him about the erosion of the Constitution, the MSM Blackout, Wall Street Bail Out, etc, I had him thinking at the very least.

Mr. Nader and Mr. Gonzalez, it has been a gratifying experience for me to have watched you two unite millions of Americans behind truth, justice, liberty and the foundation of the Constitution. "We The People"…WE Will Decide!!!

-- Patrick Brian Lee
Staying with Ralph (and this is what Ava and I wrote Sunday with one word changed), Saturday Ralph was trying for a world record: Most speeches in a 24-hour time period. Early this morning (midnight), they announced Ralph had made the world record. 15 speeches were required (each at least 10 minutes long) and -- no surprise for the campaign whose motto should be "Surpasses All Expectations" -- they made the work with 21 speeches. Always going the extra mile, Ralph Nader. Team Nader notes, "In the coming days, the Nader/Gonzalez campaign will submit all the paperwork, photography and video footage to Guinness World Records to be evaluated and decided upon. For more information and to see a full itinerary, please visit".
John McCain is the GOP presidential candidate and Sarah Palin is his running mate.  Jimmy Orr (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "The Republican nominee for President slammed Barack Obama for comments Obama made in a radio program seven years ago which surfaced early this morning. The McCain campaign says these remarks are further proof that Obama's fundamental philosophy is one of higher taxes in order to spread the wealth around." Orr quotes McCain stating, "It is amazing that even at this late hour, we are still learning more about Senator Obama and his agenda.  In a radio interview revealed today, he said that one of the quote -- 'tragedies' of the civil rights movement is that it didn't bring about a redistribution of wealth in our society.  That is what change means for Barack the Redistributor.  It means taking your money and giving it to someone else."
Today the McCain - Palin campaign released a new adClick here for video, text below:

JOHN MCCAIN: The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?
I'll make the next four better.
I know your life savings have been hit hard, but we'll rebuild them.
Barack Obama wants to increase taxes on your savings.
You can't afford that.
He's quite a talker.
But that's just bad judgment.
ANNCR: Experience. Leadership. McCain.
JOHN MCCAIN: I'm John McCain and I approve this message.
"By the way, I love this weather because it reminds me of home," Scott Conroy (CBS News) reports Palin saying as she spoke in Fredericksburg where a drizzle turned to a steady down pour: "As the rain came down harder, some in the crowd ducked under trees and others covered their heads using campaign signs, but Palin didn't even request an umbrella as she stood on stage, calmly reading through her prepared remarks." Someone must have forgot to pass on the whisper campaign being launched against her by the likes of the New York Times.