Monday, November 10, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Monday, November 10, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad bombings get some actual press attention, the treaty still waits, Iraq and China ink their billion dollar deal, provincial elections get scheduled and more.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice ended the slaughter of World War I along the Western Front.  A year later, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed a national holiday to honor the sacrifice of the U.S. troops who fought in that war.  Since then, on November 11th, people across the United States and around the world have historically given thanks for peace, and observed moments of silence to remember those who fought and died during times of war.         
Tomorrow will be the sixth Veterans Day that finds U.S. troops fighting and dying in Iraq, in a war based on lies.  Our troops, our Veterans, our families, and the Iraqi people need to know that it will also be the last.   
President-Elect Obama, you had the courage and the vision to oppose this war before it started, and you have pledged to end it.  As Commander in Chief you will have the power to do that.  But leaving U.S. combat troops in Iraq well into 2010, and leaving tens of thousands of additional troops in Iraq indefinitely, is not ending this war -- it is continuing it.  
4,193 U.S. troops and over a million Iraqis have already died as a result of this war.  Countless others will struggle for the rest of their lives with devastating physical and psychological injurieds.  Each day that this war continues, new tragedies occur.    
The war in Iraq was wrong from the beginning and it is wrong today.  There is no justification for continuing to risk the lives of our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, and the Iraqi people.    
President-Elect Obama, please honor the sacrifices of our troops, our Veterans, and our families by committing to the immediate, orderly, and safe return of all U.S. troops from Iraq and assuring that they receive the care they need when they get home.
Wolrd Can't Wait's Debra Sweet reviews the state of empire here.  And A.N.S.W.E.R. is geraing up for their March 21st actions.
From reality to the ridiculous, Martin Sieff (UPI) is so excited and he just can't hide it, "The first impact of Obama's historic and decisive election victory last week looks likely to be ensuring the rapid and successful conclusion of the talks to reach an effective Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki."  Was that UPI or ICM?  This treaty's been discussed so long that it's rare that a State Dept press briefing doesn't result in reporters bringing up the fact that the White House swore the treaty would be concluded by the end of July.  But Sieff wants to give credit for whatever happen to an election?  So is that alleged "historic and decisive election victory last week" going to be responsible for the daily sunrises as well or might UPI consider asking Sieff to journey back to planet earth?  al-Maliki mouthpiece Ali al-Dabbagh is back in the news.  AP reports that he's declared of the US response to proposed amendments, "The American answer is not enough for the government to accept it in its current form.  There are still some points in which we have not reached a bilateral understanding."  Barack -- who will not be sworn in until January -- is no more responsible for al-Dabbagh's comments than he is for what UPI saw as 'success.'  This is the White House's dance and he won't occupy it until mid-January.  The treaty masquerading as a SOFA would replace the United Nations mandare which expires December 31st.  Iran's Press TV reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani "reiterated that he would oppose any agreement which violates Iraq's sovereignty for even an iota and he would clearly announce his stance [on the proposed agreement] in the near future."  Yesterday Al Bawaba reported that Bashar Assad, Syrian president, declared today that the treaty the White House wants with the puppet government because "American troops contribute to regional instability and should withdraw from Iraq. Assad told the audience that a recent American raid inside Syria near its border with Iraq is confirmation that the U.S. will use Iraq as a base to attack its neighbors." Staying with the treaty but moving to speculation, Iran's Press TV referenced al-Sabah (Iraq daily newspaper) to state that the White House refused Iraq's "request to change a SOFA provision which would grant US citiziens immunity from legal prosecution in Iraq. . . . The daily added, under the deal, Iraq would supervise US postal services inside the country but would not be permitted to inspect parcels distained for US institutions."  Saturday Liz Sly (Chicago Tribune) explained: "The Iraqi government is coming around to the view that it would be better to sign a security deal with the Bush administration than to wait to strike a deal with President-elect Barack Obama, spurred in part by fresh U.S. concessions as well as threats by the U.S. to suspend all operations in Iraq if there is no deal by the end of the year, according to Iraqi officials." Equally true is the US statements (blackmail) that they would pull back (to bases and stop patrolling) if there was not an agreement in place by December 31st when the UN mandate expired.
Moving from the always just-around-the-corner treaty to flashback time, October 1st the US conducted the 'handover' to the puppet government in Baghdad.  So the fact that the Awakening Councils are back in the news -- because the puppet government began paying some of them a portion of what the US did -- may strike some as strange.  Gina Chon (Baghdad Life, Wall St. Journal) explains, "Today marked the first day that the Iraqi government paid salaries to thousands of informal security group members known as the Sons of Iraq, who have been credited with helping to reduct violence in the country.  Between now and Nov. 17, about 40,000 Sons of Iraq members in Baghdad will receive their $300 a month salary from the Iraqi government."  Al Jazeera notes, "The new salaries represent a slight pay cut from $300 a month under the US, down to $275 a month on the Iarqi security forces payroll.  The move to bring the Awakening groups into the security forces could test Baghdad's fragile calm" and quotes the Royal Institute for Defence and Security Studies Alastair Campbell stating, "Not only is the Iraqi government paying them slightly less . . . but also they're not paying the same amount [of people].  It's thought that about 80,000 were on the books of the Americans and Iraqs -- although they initially agreed to pay 58,000 -- will only pay 54,000.  Only 20,000 [of the 54,000] are being reintegrated into the Iraqi security forces at the moment so what will these others do?  Will they just hang around being paid not quite as much?"   "Awaking" (also known as Sawha and 'Sons of Iraq') numbered approximately 100,000 October 1st [September 22nd Bill McMichael of Military Times used the figure 99,000 during Lt Gen Lloyd Austin's press briefing and Austin did not correct the number].  So October 1st, the puppet government got a little bit of applause and today they are actually supposed to begin doing what they took applause for all that time ago. 
Earlier today AP reported two Baghdad bombings which claimed at least 22 lives with forty-two more wounded: "The bombs struck during morning rush hour in the northern part of the city. The first struck a passenger bus. The other blast occurred about 50 yards away as people rushed to help the wounded, authorities said."  The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued this statement: "The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq (SRSG) Staffan de Mistura condemned the double bombing in the Kasra district of Baghdad today killing dozens of innocent civilians and wounding scores more.  Mr. de Mistura described these detestable bombings as, 'repugnant crimes aimed at re-instilling fear, distrust and division among the public just as Iraq prepares itself to assume political normalcy with the upcoming provincial elections.' The SRSG extends the United Nations' sincere condolences to the bereaved families and its wishes for a full and speedy recovery for the wounded."  Reuters explained it was not a double bombing but a triple bombing and listed the death toll at 28 with the number wounded at sixty-eight. Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) cites witnesses counting one car bombing and two roadside bombings.   Mary Beth Sheridan and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) add that the bombings "destroyed a minibus full of passengers and rained glass and debris on people nearby" and Abu Wael restraurant owner Imad Karim believes the bulk of those hurt (or killed) were on the bus: "We are not feeling safe.  There is no security, we only hear about the security from the TV stations."  Al Jazeera quotes eye witness Jassim Mohammed who declares, "Innocent and simple people were gathering to have breakfast or shop in the nearby area.  A minibus which was driving past was also hit and four or five of its passengers were killed.  How can you explain this act?  This is not a military unit, not a military barracks.  There is nothing there."   Andrew North (BBC) offers perspective: "For Iraqis it was a depressing reminded not only of the recent past, but also of the reality that the stability they crave is still far away. . . .  This incident is gettin more attention beyond Iraq because there were more deaths than usual.  But in the last week alone more than 30 people have been killed in morning rush hour bombings in Baghdad."  Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) explains, "Today's attack is the worst in Baghdad since a car bombing on June 17 killed 51 people and wounded 75 others."
The Baghdad triple-bombing targeting the crowded area was not the only bombing today.  Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) notes 5 dead in Baquba resulting from 1 "female suicide bomber" with fifteen injured.  CNN cites an Interior Ministry official who "said a report from local police quoted hospital officials and witnesses saying that the bomber was only 13 years old." Phillippe Naughton (Times Of London) reports that "the girl blew herself up at a checkpoint manned by members of the Sunni Muslim 'Awakening' councils, which have led the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq."  The Melbourne Herald Sun adds, "Police said the attacker activated her explosive belt at a checkpoint in Baquba, capital of Diyala province. . .  Dr. Ahmed Fuad of Baquba General Hospital confirmed the number of killed and wounded and said the bomber appeard to be a 13-year-old girl."
In other reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing that left three people injured and four Mosul roadside bombings that left four people wounded.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer wounded in a Mosul shooting. 
Huseein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad. 
Turning to the issue of provincial elections, BBC reports that January 31st is now the day scheduled for them and that "[t]he vote will be held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces - excluding Kirkuk and three autonomous Kurdish provinces."  They've been postponed over and over before and may be again.  Sunday Katherine Zoepf and Sam Dagher (New York Times) addressed the decision by the presidency council (Iraq's president and two vice presidents) to sign off on the measure Parliament passed (after Parliament stripped Article 50 out of the provincial elctions bill) and they quote MP Younadim Kanna declaring, "Their sweet speeches to us turned out to be useless. We thought that they would compensate for what was done to us by other major political entitites." Kanna's referring to the song and dance Iraq's religious minorities have gotten for weeks most recently from Jalal Talabani.   From Friday's snapshot:  "Waleed Ibrahim, Tim Cocks and Philippa Fletcher (Reuters) report that the office of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani issued a statement yesterday about his meet up with Christians, "They expressed worries about the negative impact of the law passed in parliament, which they said gives them a small number of seats and does not protect their rights. They asked the [presidency] council to reject this law. The president showed full support to Christian and other minorities (and) . . . promised he will not sign any law that could deprive any Iraqi group of their rights."  Talabani gives a bunch of pretty speeches and then goes ahead and votes for the measure which gives Iraq's religious community six seats -- when Article 50 guaranteed them 13 and the UN (after Article 50 was struck) proposed 12. Just a bunch of pretty words from Talabani. All it takes is one veto vote from any of the three members of the presidency council to tank a measure. Since this one passed, Talabani obviously voted for it despite his repeated assurances to the religious communities.  Leila Fadel (Baghdad Observer, McClatchy Newspapers) observes this came following "nationwide protests from minority communities" when Parliament axed Article 50: "Screwing the minorities seems to be the order of the day so that the powerful become more powerful. Arab and Islamic parties banned together to pass the law because they worried that giving minorities would help Kurdish expansion. Arab nationalists fear the expansion of the Kurdish region and the ultimate secession of the Kurdish north. Currently the Kurds control the local government in the mostly northern Sunni Arab province of Nineveh."   Meanwhile Patrick Cockburn (Independent of London) notes that thee "new difficulty facing the government is the fall in the price of crude oil on which the state is wholly dependent.  Iraq has been expecting oil revenue of almost $80bn for 2008, but this will be much lower now the price of oil is down to $64 a barrel.  With total government expenditure at some $50bn, this means the government may be short of $10bn to $15bn next year.  Earlier this year the government was doubling the salaries of government employees, as if the high price of oil would be permanent."  China's Xinhua reports that Iraq's oil deal with China National Peteroleum Corporation was signed today and that the deal is thought to be worth "2.9 billion U.S. dollars".