Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, November 18, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, the treaty dance continues, Iraq corruption continues and look who is firing the auditors, and more.
Starting with the treaty masquearding as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  Chris Floyd (Baltimore Chronicle) steps up to talk realities:
The American media is by and large swallowing the propaganda line that the Iraqi cabinet's acquiescense to a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the U.S. occupation force means that the Iraq War will be over in in 2011.  This will further cement the conventional wisdom that the suppurating war crime in Iraq is now behind us, and the topic will be moved even further off the radar of public scrutiny.    
But as usual, there is a wide, yawning abyss between the packaged, freeze-dried pabulum for public consumption and thhe gritty, blood-flecked truth on the ground.  As Jason Ditz reports at Antiwar.com, the so-called "deadline" in 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces remains, as ever, an "aspiration," not an iron-clad guarantee.  The pace and size of the bruited "withdrawal" will remain, as ever, "conditions-based," says Pentagon and White House officials -- a position long echoed by the "anti-war" president-elect.  And as we all know, "conditions" in a war zone are always subject to radical, unexpected change.
And Campbell Robertson and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) deserve credit for this bit of reporting today on the treaty, "The concessions included establishing deadlines for withdrawing combat forces from Iraqi cities by naext June and from the county by the end of 2011, though officials said the text of the agreement included language that made those dates less rigid deadlines."  While they note US Rep Bill Delahunt, they fail to note the most important detail from the press release his office issued last week:
Next week's hearing will examine the possibility that any bilateral agreement reached between the Bush Administration and the government of Iraq may effectively tie the hands of the next Administration as a result of a clause in Article 31 in a draft of the accord that would prohibit the United States from cancelling it for one year.
The hearing is tomorrow and starts at ten a.m. The most important part is "a clause in Article 31 in a draft of the accord that would prohibit the United States from cancelling it [the "bilateral agreement"] for one year."  So the treaty's not all that binding.  Binding contracts do not allow either party to cancel in one year, 'binding contracts' trumpeted for what they will 'do' three years from now (2011) do not allow either party the option to cancel out starting in 2009.  Reuters reports that Ali Larijani, Iran's Speaker of Parliament, is decrying the treaty for "strengthening comprehensive U.S. hegemony in Iraq" while Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani released a statement today which includes: "The representatives of the Iraqi people in parliament must take on a big responsibility in this case and each must be up to this historic responsibility before God and the people."
The Washington Post asserts a 'change' in Barack Obama's stance on the treaty.  First let's review the public stance this year.
During the election, the Obama-Biden campaign website revealed their stance on the so-called SOFA in "Plan for Ending the War in Iraq:"

The Status-of-Forces-Agreement

Obama and Biden believe any Status of Forces Agreement, or any strategic framework agreement, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases. Obama and Biden also believe that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval. It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval--yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress. The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

Post election,  Change.gov was set up as the official website for the Barack-Biden transition and if you pull up "The Obama-Biden Plan," you will find:

The Status-of-Forces Agreement
Obama and Biden believe it is vital that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be reached so our troops have the legal protections and immunities they need. Any SOFA should be subject to Congressional review to ensure it has bipartisan support here at home.

That has been the official position, that Congressional approval was required and Congressional review.  However, Michael Abramowitz (Washington Post) reports, "And the Obama transition team is signling that it wants Congress to review the pact, though not necessarily approve it."  That would be a huge shift from where Barack once stood.  It would also make Joe Biden look like a flat-out liar.  Or are we all supposed to forget the April 10th Senate Foreign Reltations committee he chaired where he told the State Dept's David Satterfield and the Defense Dept's Mary Beth Long that regarding their claim that the so-called SOFA didn't need Senator approval, "I respectfully suggest that you don't have a Constitutional leg to stand on."  And are we supposed to forget Senator Russ Feingold informing Satterfield, "I would suggest your difficulties are with the nature of our Constitution."  Or that Senators Norm Coleman and Johnny Isakson also called out the so-called SOFA (both senators are Republicans -- there was bi-partisan objection to the Senate's Constitutional role of approving any treaty being circumvented).  Back on the Democratic side, Senator Robert Menendez pointed out this bi-partisan objection, "Many of us on both sides of the aisle believe that such an agreement needs to come before Congress."   Senator Jim Webb made his position clear, "I would argue it's a document that needs Senate consent."
On both sides of the aisle, senators stood up for the Constitution (and let's not forget that they stood up in the House as well including US House Rep Susan Davis) and now this is going to be tossed aside or Barack Obama thinks it is?  That's what the Post reported this morning.  (Friends on the transition team told me this morning and this afternoon that the position has not changed and Senate approval remains the stance.  Whether that's true or not, I don't know.)  
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte spoke in Ireland yesterday where he strung together the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, "2001" and "extremism."  When the current administration leaves office will they take the direct and indirect fale-linkage of Iraq to 9-11 with him?  You'd think so but you'd also have thought that all that lip flapping in April meant something, that a Constituional scholar like Barack wouldn't be eager to spit on the Constitution before he's even sworn in; however, the Post feels their information on this is solid and Team Barack will not fight for or advocate Senate approval.  If true, he'll go into office a damn liar and never overcome it while Democrats in the Senate will be damned in the same manner.  (Russ Feingold being Russ would most likely speak out to some degree if the Senate was circumvented.  Would the rest?)  For eight years, Democrats and their media surrogates have tossed around phrases like "rule of law" and if they think they can drop them just because "their guy" got into the White House they better expect to see huge losses in both houses of Congress come November 2010.  And you can pair this potential move by Barack with Tom Burghardt's "Obama's Intelligence Agenda: More of the Same from the 'Change Administration'" (Dissident Voice):

While expectations may be high that the incoming Obama administration will reverse many of the worst features of the Bush regime–from warrantless wiretapping, illegal detention, torture, "targeted assassinations" and preemptive war–now that the cheering has stopped, expect more of the same. 
According to The Wall Street Journal, "President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party." 
With hyperbolic "change" rhetoric in the air, Obama is relying on a gaggle of former intelligence insiders, warmed-over Clinton administration officials and "moderate" Republicans, many of whom helped Bush craft his administration's illegal policies. 
With U.S. street cred at an all-time low, due in no small measure to Washington's hubristic fantasies that it really is an empire and not a rapidly decaying failed state, ruling elites have literally banked on Obama to deliver the goods. 
During his run for the White House, the Illinois senator may have mildly criticized some of the administration's so-called "counterterrorism" policies including the Bushist penchant for secrecy, the disappearance of "terrorist" suspects, driftnet surveillance of American citizens and legal residents, CIA "black site" gulags and the crushing of domestic dissent. 
But in the few scant days since the November 4 general election, the contours of what Democratic party corporatist grifters will roll-out come January 20 are taking shape. Citing Obama's carefully-crafted public relations blitz on the campaign trail opposing illegal spying, the Journal reports: 
Yet he ... voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.   
The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight. (Siobhan Gorman, "Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact," The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2008) 

The "current government official" cited by the Journal fails to specify precisely what it means to "keep the road open" when it comes to torturing prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Turning to England, Peter Goldsmith is in the news. Lord Goldsmith resigned as Attorney General of England and Wales June 27, 2007.  His advice to then-Prime Minister Ton Blair has been questioned for some time (PDF format warning, click here for the advice).  Yesterday Lord Thomas Bingham, speaking to The British Institute of International and Comparative Law raised Goldsmith's advice.  BBC reports he called the war "a serious violation of international law" and said Bingham provided Blaid with "no hard evidence" making a case for the war. Joshua Rozenberg (Telegraph of London) explains, "It is thought to be the first time that Lord Bingham has expressed his views about the legal advice given to Tony Blair by the former Attorney General.  The issue never came before Lord Bingham while he was sitting as a judge."  Rozenberg quotes Bingham on why the decision was doubtful:
"First, it was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply in a manner justifying resort to force and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had: Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors had found no weapons of mass destruction, were making progress and expected to complete their task in a matter of months.
"Secondly, it passes belief that a determination whether Iraq had failed to avail itself of its final opportunity was intended to be taken otherwise than collectively by the Security Council."
Frances Gibb (Times of London) quotes Bingham stating, "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration."  The First Post emphasizes the illegal nature of the war based on Bingham's judgement.
From illegal to corruption, September 22nd in the US, the the Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on corruption that was noted in the Sept. 23rd snapshot:
Senator Byron Dorgan: In March, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing at my request, in which we heard from a very courageous Iraqi judge who headed Iraq's Commission of Public Integrity. This agency was established by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion of Iraq, and charged with rooting out corruption in the new government. Judge al-Radhi estimated that corruption in Iraq's government had resulted in the loss of $18 billion in government funds, and most of those funds had been US tax payer dollars. Judge Radhi said that instead of supporting his efforts to fight corruption, the top levels of the Iraqi government had ultimately suppressed his investigations. [. . . ] Judge Radhi also testified that since the establishment of the Commission of Public Integrity, more than 31 employees have been assassinated as well as at least an additional 12 family members. One would have expected that our own government would have been doing everything it could to support Judge Radhi's anti-corruption efforts. But in hearing of this committee back in May, we heard from two State Dept officials who said that our own government was not interested in ensuring accountability of U.S. funds in Iraq or in rooting out corruption. In fact, one of the officials, retired judge Arthur Brenna, said that some of the stolen funds were steered to the Iraqi insurgency. Yet the administration was generally indifferent to the problem. This indifference has had deadly consequences. We will hear from witnesses today -- one of whom was Judge Radhi's chief investigator in Iraq -- about how stolen US funds have gone to al Qaeda in Iraq. Our earlier hearing with Judge Brennan showed us that the State Dept turns a blind eye when it comes to corruption. Today's hearing will show us what the State Dept turned a blind eye to -- and what the consequences have been.
Today James Glanz and Riyadh Mohammed (New York Times) report that Nouri al-Maliki continues to fire those tasked with oversight and the reporters note, "Mr. Maliki's stance on oversight was most vividly illustrated by his long-running feud with Judge Rathi al-Rathi, the former head of the Commission onf Public Integrity, an oversight agency created by the Coalition Provisional Authority.  After Mr. Rathi's corruption investigations repeatedly embarrassed the Maliki government, the prime minister's office supported corruption charges against Mr. Rathi himself."  Matt Kelley (USA Today) reports that being suspended by the government doesn't mean that you can't still get contracts as Lee Dynamics International (suspended for bribery) proves, "Contracting officers gave Lee Dynamics International a new contract in July 2007 despite warnings from military lawyers, according to a report issued by Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR). The Joint Contracting Command-Iraq did not return calls on why Lee Dynamics was awarded the new contract."  Matt Kelley also notes, "The Pentagon spent about $600 million on more than 1,200 Iraq reconstruction contracts that were eventually canceled, nearly half of them for the mismanagemnt or shoddy construciton, government inspectors say."  Reuters notes Iraq ranks number three on the most corrupt nation-state list by Transparency International Index and that the head of Iraq's Integrity Commission, Rahim al-Ugaili,  was sent out to dance for reporters today .and declare, "In 2008 we referred 337 cases to the court.  This year has seen the biggest achievement."  No word apparently on whether more corruption cases would allegedly be referred or not had al-Maliki not fired at will.  Glanz and Mohammed note:
At least two of the officials who were forced out were Christian women, Hana Shakuri of the Culture Ministry and Samia Youssef Sha'ia of the Christian Endowment.  But most are simply senior Sunni and Shiite technocrats who have been at their posts for years and in several cases were orginally appointed in 2004 by L. Paul Bremer III, the top administrator for the Coaliton Provisional Authority.
We'll use the women's religion to grab Liz Sly's (Chicago Tribune) report on Sunday about Iraq's Mandeans who predate Christianity and Islam ("and even perhaps Judaism") but are now "on the brink of extinction" having dropped from 30,000 in 2002 to between 3,500 and 5,000 currently:
Scattered around the world in tiny communities, the chances that the religion will survive more than a few generations are slim, experts say. Mandaeism does not accept converts, and the children of Mandaeans who marry non-Mandaeans do not belong to the sect.

There are only 35 priests left in the world familiar with the elaborate ceremonies of a people who claim to be directly descended from Adam and who regard John the Baptist as their most important prophet.

"It has been a catastrophe for us," said Sattar Jabar Helou, who heads the Mandaean sect worldwide. "This is one of the world's oldest religions, and it is going to die."

Mandaeans, known as Sabis in Arabic, are just one of several minorities who have historically given Iraq its distinct identity as a cradle of religious diversity. All have suffered disproportionately from the spread of anarchy and extremism in the wake of the U.S. invasion.

Iraq's once-substantial Christian community has seen its numbers dwindle from about 800,000 to 500,000. Yazidis, a lettuce-shunning minority that venerates the forces of good and evil, have been targeted for attacks in their enclaves along the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. Shabbaks, a Muslim sect that permits alcohol and is neither Sunni nor Shiite, have been persecuted in their ancestral lands near the northern city of Mosul.
Turning to today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing inside the home "of Sadi Mahdi, a general inspector in the ministry of electriticy" which left "Sadi's son Mustafa and his wife" wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded two people, a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded one person, another Baghdad roadside bombing and this one left two people wounded and a Mosul car bombing that claimed 1 life and ten other people injured.  Reuters notes a Sinjar bombing that claimed 1 life and left thirteen people injured,
Reuters notes 5 'suspects' were shot dead in Samarra and three more wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 15 corpses discovered in Baghdad
Meanwhile Greg Mitchell (Editor & Publisher) continues to explore service members deaths in Iraq from non-combat, "Here is today's horror story, involving Sgt. Mason Lewis of Virginia. A year ago, the military told his mom he had died in a fall. By implication: his fault. Yesterday a local TV outlet reported that the official probe has belatedly revealed: 'Army investigators discovered a poorly maintained bucket loader with no brakes and sluggish hydraulics, operated by an inexperienced crew, led to Mason's death'."
Mickey Z (at CounterCurrents) points out the little confidence game so many on the left are playing at present regarding a hopey-changey Corporatist War Hawk:

And let's say Howard Zinn wrote an article that talked about what this man should do, what he hoped he'd do.  For example: "announce the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan" and "renounce the Bush doctrine of preventive war as well as the Carter doctrine of military action to control Midest oil." Also: "radically change the direction of U.S. foreign policy, declare that the U.S. is a peace loving country which will not intervene militarily in other parts of the world, and start dismantling the military bases we have in over a hundred countries.  Also he must begin meeting with Medvedev, the Russian leader, to reach agreement on the dismantling of the nuclear arsenals, in keeping with the Nuclear Anti-Proliferation Treaty."  Then raise taxes on the rich and combine that windfall with the hundreds of billions of dollars freed from the military budget to "give free health care to everyone (and) put millions of people to work" and thus "transform" the United States and "make it a good neighbor to the world."  
Well, Howard Zinn has written such an article ("Obama's Historic Victory," Nov. 12, 2208) but is anyone calling him delusional and ridiculing him for even suggesting such insane expectations?  The tens of thousands of readers who look to Zinn as a trusted voice of wisdom and reason are being dangerously misled by an article that omits the reality that every indication points to Barack Obama doing the exact opposite of what Zinn writes.  Zinn knows as well as anyone that not an iota of evidence exists that Obama would do anything approaching what is described above.  For a man of Zinn's stature on the Left to even hint of such a possibility is a shockingly irresponsible act and one that only contributes to the misguided perception that Obama's election is somehow a victory for the progressive Left.