Friday, December 5, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq holds an Energy Expo . . . as the price of oil drops further, the 'coalition' continues to shrink, a military trial ends in tears and shouts at the verdict, and more.
Today the Iraq Energy Expo took place at Baghdad International Airport and the sponsor was the mercenaries for hire corporation Triple Canopy Inc. Sourcewatch notes that the company, started in September 2003, was awarded over $90 million in US government contracts before the end of 2005. The Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized the event. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) observes that "Iraqi oil officials made sure they put their best faces on today" for the "large crowd" turning out for the expo (due to complete on Sunday) and that the bulk of the crrowd will be staying at the new hotel just opened at Baghdad International Airport. The expo was originally supposed to take place from October 17th through the 19th but it was cancelled due to the fact that the convention center wasn't fully constructed at that point. UPI's Ben Lando noted the announced ates back in September were December 3rd to 5th. AFP reports that "many major global oil companies" -- such as Exxon, Total and BP -- skipped the expo and quotes an unnamed US oil company exec complaining, "Since we have been here, we haven't made money. We sent some expert teams, then we took them back (as) we had no results. There are two many problems." Of the 'guests'/ 'visitors,' Chon notes, "Because they were limited to either the conference hall or their hotel rooms, the one amenity they did appreciate was a bar in the hotel, one of the few in Baghdad. The bar opens at noon and last call is at 11:30 p.m., but it closes after midnight. 'I'm not allowed to go anywhere except the hotel and the oil conference, so at least there is the bar go to,' one international company representative said. 'There is nothing else to do at night. That will be one drawback if we set up here." Quick, get that on the travel brochure! Ben Landon (UPI) reports that Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq's Oil Minister, gave the keynote speech and insisted during it that the oil reserves in his country were "understated" and he also declared, "The oil sector represents an important part of Iraq's recent history and also its future." That as Mark Shenk (Bloomberg News) explains, "Crude oil fell for a sixth day, capping the biggest weekly drop since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, on concern demand will decline after a resport showed U.S. employers cut jobs in November at the fastest pace since 1974. Oil is down 25 percent since Nov. 28 as the recession deepened in the U.S., Europe and Japan."
The energy expo took place while many issues were still up in the air. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports that Hussein al-Shahrastani was sending "mixed signals" today "about a possible detente over oil contracts between the central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region." Anna Fifield, Javier Blas and Delphine Strauss (Iraq Updates) note, "Iraq's central government and regional authorities in Kurdistan are moving closer to signing a long-awaited oil deal that could pave the way for exports from the northern region's oil fields early next year." But Ben Lando (UPI) explains, "Eleven days after the Iraqi oil minister traveled to the KRG capital, Erbil, for meetings with the region's prime minister and oil minister, both sides have continued firing warning shots in the debate that has continued for more than a year on Kurdish oil contracts with the international oil companies."
While foreigners visit for the expo, foreign troops beat a hasty retreat out of the country.
This week South Korea was among those ending their missions in Iraq. The KRG notes Nechirvan Barzani, KRG Prime Minister, declared to Kim Joong-ryun (Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chair), "We are pleased with this relationship and proud of this friendship with the people of Korea. The motto that you brought to the Kurdistan Region was 'We are friends'. I can say with full sincerity, and from the bottom of my heart, that we in the Kurdistan Region are your true friends, too." Mike noted Tony Perry's "IRAQ: Back to Azerbaijan, 'land of valiant sons'" (Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond) last night on Azerbaijan's departure and , Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reported yesterday on a ceremony held in Iraq for Tonga who "became the latest member of the 'coalition of the willing' to end its mission in Iraq." (Tonga had 55 service members stationed in Iraq.) Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life) reports the Czech Republic had their departure ceremony yesterday . Any nations who decide to continue stationing troops in Iraq will need to reach some agreement one-on-one with the puppet government. Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) notes that next month only six countries are expected to have troops in Iraq: Australia, El Salvador, Estonia, Romania, the UK and the US. Troops aren't the only ones leaving. After the US, the next largest number of troops comes from the UK. Alissa J. Rubin (International Herald Tribune) states they have 4,100 soldiers stationed in Iraq and notes of the treaty the UK is attempting to work out with the puppet government, "A diplomat at the British Embassy in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media said that the negotiations were continuing but that the mission of British forces here would be dramatically reduced by early next year. After that, British forces will be almost exclusively involved in training Iraqi troops, according to Iraqi officials." Corinne Reilly (McClatchy Newspapers) reflects on her seven weeks reporting from Iraq: "I saw a lot of people cry while I was in Iraq, but I think of the hugging soldiers and the rocking civilian most often. Maybe it was the strangeness of seeing uniformed soldiers in tears. Maybe it's the way they made me feel: guilty, because I got to leave. Whatever the reasons, I'm glad that I think about them, glad that their grief is my last remembrance of Iraq. Because for all the stories of reduced violence and political and social successes there, Iraq remains, for the most part, a devastated country."
On the treaty the White House is pushing through with their puppet government in Iraq, Campbell Robertson (New York Times) observes, "If the pact were to fail in the referendum, which is scheduled to be held in July, Iraq would pull out of the agreement. But that process, under the agreement's terms, would require giving the Americans a year's notice." Ramzy Baroud (Information Clearing House) notes the nonsense of the press in reporting the treaty: "Thousands of headlines exuded from media outlets, largely giving the false impression that the Iraqi government and parliament have a real say over the future of US troops in their country, once again playing into the ruse fashioned by Washington that Iraq is a democratic country, operating independently from the dictates of US Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and the top commander of US toops in Iraq, General Ray Odierno." Noting the stenography of the press, Baroud makes a point to cite the Guardian's Jonathan Steel and Al Jazeera's English website for the poor job they did in covering the treaty. From his column:
What is particularly interesting about the Iraq case is that news reports and media analysts scampered to dissect the 18- page agreement as if a piece of paper with fancy wording would in any way prove binding upon the US administration which, in the last eight years, has made a mockery of international law and treaties that have been otherwise used as a global frame of reference. Why would the US government, which largely acted alone in Iraq, violated the Geneva Conventions, international law and even its own war and combat regulations, respect an agreement signed with an occupied, hapless power constituted mostly of men and women handpicked by the US itself to serve the role of "sovereign"?
It's also bewildering how some important details are so conveniently overlooked; for example, the fact that the Iraqi government can sign a separate agreement with the US to extend the deadline for withdrawal should the security situation deem such an agreement necessary. Instead, the focus was made on "concessions" obtained by the Iraqis regarding Iraq's jurisdiction over US citizens and soldiers who commit heinous crimes while "off duty" and outside their military bases. This precisely means that the gruesome crimes committed in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and the wilful shooting last year of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater mercenaries in Nisour Square in Central Baghdad is of no concern for Iraqis. And even when crimes that fall under Iraqi jurisdiction are reported, such matters are to be referred to a joint US-Iraqi committee. One can only assume that those with the bigger guns will always prevail in their interpretation of the agreement.
From those duped by the treaty to the duped workers now trapped/imprisoned in Iraq, Michael Ware (CNN) reports they have reported physical battering as well, stating that "Iraqi police handcuffed and beat them" and while "the men spoke to CNN on camera, an official in charge of them threatened to lock them out of the compound unless they returned inside within two minutes." Deborah Haynes (Times of London's Inside Iraq) quoted one of the men, Ganesh Kumar Bhagat, stating, "We have no money, no food, no toilet, no water, no job. The first time I arrived here I was happy, I had a good feeling. But we have not been lucky. Nobody should come to Iraq."
Certainly note with all the ongoing violence or the fact that it is an illegal war. On the violence, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 2 lives and left two people injured and an Iranian "bombardment" in Sulaimaniyah that injured a shepherd. It's a Friday, not a lot of violence gets reported.
Tuesday, Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) filed a piece expressing the belief that Moqtada al-Sadr was losing influence in Iraq and that Parliament's vote in favor of the treaty was among the signs "of how Sadr's clout has diminished since 2005". I disagree. And prior to the flare up in Basra, I had bought the idea that he had lost influence. The rumors then were he was a hotel clerk in Najaf (alternatating with Iran) and studying. He had been gone from Sadr City (if not Iraq) for some time and the residents were living in a violent hell with no one to speak up for them, let alone to protect them. I have no problem stating I was wrong in thinking he'd lost his influence. When Basra flared up (al-Maliki launched his attack on the city -- jumping the announced date and doing so without the US military's express consent or lengthy consultation according to what Gen David Petraeus told Congress in April), al-Sadr stood alone as the person standing up. He called out the attack. His stock rose. Despite the fact that there was no 'win' for al-Sadr in either the assault on Basra or on Sadr City (started shortly after), his stock rose. He became seen -- rightly or wrongly -- as someone who spoke the truth and that image went far beyond just his usual supporters or even just Shi'ites. Susman's take may be correct but it may not. I don't believe (my opinion) he's losing influence. Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) has a report that could be picked for support that al-Sadr's losing influence or that he's holding steady (or gaining). The thrust of the report is that his supporters are going to have to find other ways to build the movement. No doubt they will. However, problems his supporters have are their own. Moqtada enjoys a special status because of his father and because of his actions since the start of the illegal war. To point to some follower in some city of Iraq and say this can prove al-Sadr's grasp is slipping is a reach. If the US is smart, they won't antagonize him. (No more taunting speeches to al-Sadr from Secretary of State Condi Rice, for example.) That might allow him to fade -- maybe -- provided things actually improved in Iraq ("improved," not lessened -- "violence lessened, misfortune lessened, the refugee crisis lessened," etc.). But his power is a personal nature and has to do with what bloodlines have vested in him and what his own actions since the start of the illegal war have been. At any point, even should his image be at an all time low (short of any scandal -- real or imagined -- or planned like the Abu Ghraib photos were planned to embarrass prisoners after they were released if the prisoners 'made trouble'), all he has to do is return to Iraq and walk through the streets of any neighborhood. There will be an automatic excitement and rush.
Turning to the US where a trial was ongoing into military deaths in Iraq, Alberto B. Martinez was on trial for the murders of Philip Esposito and Louis Allen. A decision was reached yesterday leading Louis Allen's widow Barbara to shout, "He slaughtered our husbands, and that's it?" and at Martinez, "You murdered my husband." Jim Kambrich (WNYT -- link has text and video) reports on the verdict in the case of the double murders June 7, 2005 and highlights Philip Esposito's widow Siobhan stating in October, "We would rather be back with our children than be here in the court room but we're here seeking justice for our husbands." Hema Easley (Lower Hudson Journal News) explains the jury had fourteen members and they found Martinez not guilty of fragging the two men ("military slang for the intentional killing of an officer, especially by hand grenade"). Robert Gavin (Albany Times Union) notes, "Staff Sgt. Amy Harland of Ohio, who also worked in supplies at the base, testified she provided Martinez with the mines in May, unaware of what would transpire. The jury Thursday asked to listen to her testimony, in which she said the soldier's ire toward Esposito was increasing." Paul Woolverton and Corey G. Johnson (Fayetteville Observer) report that when the verdict was read, someone shouted (in disbelief), "This is the United States of America!" John Sullivan (Times Herald Record) adds that another person (unidentified) yelled at Martinez "murdering son of a bitch" as the judge, Col Stephen Henley, cleared the courtroom. Hema Easley also reports that a plea agreement was floated to the widows and quotes Barbara Allen stating: "We got a call from Iraq to gauge our feelings about a guilty plea, and we said no, we needed the truth. At that point we had faith in the judicial system." Siobhan Esposito adds, "We said absolutely not." The US Army's statement on the case can be found here. The US State Dept has repeatedly underestimated him (though that's not the case currently) and thought many times that he was 'out.' Each of those times added to the image he already had as "the son of" and helped carve out an individual image for himself. Moqtada al-Sadr is -- rightly or wrongly -- the person who calls out the abuses in Iraq brought on by the US invasion and US control of the puppet government. There is no fade for that image. He is Iraq's Che, James Dean and assorted other mythic figure. As long as there is chaos and violence in Iraq, al-Sadr has power because his role is the critic. Every day that peace does not come to Iraq backs up his role and his statements. al-Maliki is attempting to further consolidate his power (a power grab) and currently in conflict with the Kurdish officials. Possibly Susman's grading al-Sadr's 'loss' on some daily measurement? It's not a daily ebb and flow. He has a power base and that is now a personal one that he inhabits. It's no longer coming from his father or who his father was, or who does or does not declare their support for him publicly. He's become a mythic figure and -- short of a scandal that goes to character or Iraq having a prolonged outbreak of peace -- only he can destroy his power at this point.
Public broadcasting notes. PBS programs begin airing tonight in some markets, check local listings for time and date. NOW on PBS offers:
How should President-elect Barack Obama handle our tricky relations with Pakistan? This week, David Brancaccio sits down with author and journalist Tariq Ali, who grew up in Pakistan, to discuss what he thinks team Obama should do to improve its standing in Pakistan in particular and the region as a whole.
"I think it should back off militarily. That's the key," Ali tells NOW. Ali says the U.S.'s roughly 20 reported attacks against Al Qaeda inside Pakistan's borders since late August are doing more harm than good because they "mainly have hit civilian targets."
The question of how to handle nuclear-armed Pakistan has become especially difficult amidst Indian claims of Pakistani links to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which left at least 170 people dead.
What's the best strategy for the U.S. in Pakistan and how will it impact the war in Afghanistan, where Obama has said he plans to send more troops? Watch for an insider's view of how the president-elect should proceed.
Tehran-born author Hooman Majd talks to NOW's David Brancaccio about America's thorny relationship with Iran and how he thinks Obama should handle the problematic issue of Iran's nuclear program.
"I think the main issue for Americans, and certainly for the [Obama Administration,] is how do we persuade Iran to not take that step? We can't take the knowledge away from them anymore," says Majd, who grew up in American and Britain, but often returns to Iran.
Iran has produced enough nuclear material to produce a nuclear bomb, according to a report released last month from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Although Iran denies that its nuclear program has military aspirations, it has called for wiping out the state of Israel. What's the best way forward with this unpredictable country in Middle East?
On Washington Week's latest installment, Gwen sits around the table with Karen Tumulty (Time magazine), Peter Baker (New York Times) and David Wessel (Wall St. Journal). Public radio? WBAI on Sunday:
Sunday, December 7, 11am-noon
THE NEXT HOUR
Documentary filmmaker/psychologist Murray Nossel and psychiatrist Paul
Browde, co-stars of the off-Broadway hit, "Two Men Talking,"
demonstrate their storytelling techniques with members of their
Narativ Workshop. With storytellers Benaifer Bhadha, Marion Stein,
Archimedes Bibiano and Jerome Deroy. Hosted by Janet Coleman
Broadcasting at WBAI/NY 99.5 FM
Streaming live at WBAI
Archived at Cat Radio Cafe
NOTE: CAT RADIO CAFE is pre-empted on December 8 for WBAI fundraising.
Regular programming resumes on December 22. Information on CAT RADIO
CAFE and THE NEXT HOUR fundraising specials to be announced.
And on broadcast TV Sunday, CBS offers CBS 60 Minutes:
The Oil Kingdom
Despite the pledge of President-elect Barack Obama and others to lessen America's use of foreign oil, Saudi Arabia – the world's largest oil supplier - isn't worried. That's what Saudi officials told Lesley Stahl when she visited the oil kingdom and toured its vast petroleum facilities, which are gearing up to produce even more. (This is a double length segment.) | Watch Video
His painting took the art world by storm in the 1980s and then Julian Schnabel reinvented himself as a film director to more kudos. Morley Safer profiles this titan of art and film. | Watch Video
the fayetteville observer
corey g. johnson