Thursday, December 18, 2008

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, December 18, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue,
The Committee to Protect Journalists released their end-of-year analysis today and "the deadliest country in the world for the press" is . . .  For the sixth year in a row, the 'honor' goes to Iraq:
All of those killed in Iraq were local journalists working for domestic news outlets.  The victims included Shihab al-Tamimi, head of the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, who died from injuries suffered in a targeted shooting in Baghdad.  Soran Mama Hama, a reporter for Livin magazine, was targeted by gunmen in front of his home after reporting on prostitution and corruption in Kirkuk. 
Two media support workers also died in Iraq during the year.  Since the beginning of the war in March 2003, 136 journalists and 51 media workers have been killed, making it the deadliest conflict for the press in recent history.
The 11 journalists CPJ lists as killed in Iraq in 2008 are Alaa Abdul-Karim al-Fartoosi in Balad January 29th, Shihab al-Tamimi in Baghdad February 27th, Jassim al-Batat in Basra April 25th, Sarwa Abdul-Wahab in Mosul May 4th, Wissam Ali Ouda in Baghdad May 21st, Haidar al-Hussein in Diyala Province May 22nd, Mohieldin Al-Naqeeb in Mosul June 17th, Soran Mama Hama in Kirkuk July 21st, and in Mosul -- on September 13th -- Musab Mahmmod al-Ezawi, Ahmed Salim and Ihab Mu'd. 
Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zeidi is currently imprisoned following his tossing two shoes at the Bully Boy of the United States on Sunday.  Yesterday Randall Joyce (CBS News) observed, "He has disappeared into an Iraqi legal system that is deeply flawed and, at times, intentionally confusing.  If transparency is the standard for a good court system, then Iraq's is the opposite. Opaque doesn't begin to describe it."  Joyce noted that Muntader was not present in Iraq's Central Court as had been announced and that family and lawers were instead given second-hand accounts.  Joyce explained, "Al-Zeidi's family was informed at today's hearing that he is being held in a jail in the Green Zone, but when our crew went to that facility they were told he had never been there.  So far, no member of his family has seen him and we have no idea of his physical condition.  There is no explanation so far as to why the hearing took place a day earlier than planned at a secret location without the presence of al-Zeidi's legal team or family."  Today Randall Joyce notes that Muntader's attorneys are still being prevented from seeing their client as is his family: "Family members have expressed concern that al-Zeidi may have been severely beaten after the incident and is being hidden from view to keep the nature of his injuries from the public.  His continued detention is becoming a political issue here in Baghdad, where thousands have marched demanding his release.  The television channel he works for continues to run extended programs featuring interviews and phone call-in segments demanding his release."  According to Joyce, the law under which Muntader might be prosecuted "existed before the U.S. invasion".  One question should be why Saddam-era guidelines are being followed after Saddam has not only been disposed but also executed?  Another would be where's the evidence?  AFP reports that the judge is stating, "The shoes were examined by the Iraqi and American security services and then destroyed."  If true, the shoes -- or alleged shoes -- were never examined by the court and cannot be presented as evidence.   Wisam Mohammed (Reuters) reports puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki says Muntader has apologized for throwing the shoes. And he did so in writing -- al-Maliki claims.  Which may or may not be true (as with most of al-Maliki's claims).  But they've produced a written confession!  After denying Muntader access to his attorneys and, of course, after beating him.  Jormana Karadsheh (CNN) portrays the written confession as a request "for leniency" and allows Yaseen al-Majeed -- spokesperson for the puppet -- to babble on without ever making the point that neither his family nor his attorneys have been allowed to see Muntader. Riyadh Suhail (Saudi Gazette) notes Dergham al-Zeidi, Muntader's brother, states he's been told "his brother's hands and ribs are fractured and he has eyes and leg injuries."
Zain Verjee: Staying in Iraq, the shoe-throwing incident, it was really a symbol in so many ways in the Arab world of utter contempt -- 

Condi Rice: Yeah --

Zain Verjee: -- for President Bush. 

Condi Rice: And it was one journalist among several who were sitting there respectfully, and I hope it isn't allowed over time to obscure the fact that this was the President of the United States standing in Baghdad next to the democratically elected Shia Prime Minister of a multiconfessional Iraq that has just signed agreements of friendship and cooperation with the United States for the long term.  
Zain Verjee: But the man may have been one journalist, but he was viewed throughout much of the Arab world as a real hero.
Condi Rice: Oh, I --
Zain Verjee: My question is --
Condi Rice: I have heard so many people --

Zain Verjee: My question to you is --

Condi Rice: Yes?
Zain Verjee: -- does it bother you that with all the diplomacy that you've done, President Bush's policies, the policies that you've carried out --
Condi Rice: Zain --

Zain Verjee: that the US is so loathed around the world?
Condi Rice: Zain, the United States is not loathed.  The policies of the United States are sometimes not liked.  People don't like that we've had to say hard things and do hard things about terrorism.  People don't like that we've spoken fiercely for the right of Israel to defend itself at the same time that we've advocated for a Palestinian state.  But I have to go back.  So many people in and around when that incident happened told me how embarrassed they were by the fact that that had happened.  But the crux --
Zain Verjee: But didn't it upset you?  Didn't it?
Condi Rice: No, no, only the focus of those who are supposed to be reporting for history didn't focus on the historical moment, which is what this was -- the President of the United States in Baghdad, for goodness sake, with a freely elected prime minister in a show of friendship.  It didn't get reported that the Iraqi band spent apparently several -- all night trying to learn our national anthem and did it really rather well.
No, she's not that stupid.  She is an educated woman and she knows damn well that the history books do not spend pages and pages on how the British band played "The World Turned Upside Down" as the British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781 -- or how many hours of practice the band had.  She knows that, November 5, 1913, when then Col. Teddy Rossevelt landed in Argentina on the Rosario, the military band played both the US and the Argentine national anthems but that's not really a main item in the history books -- nor is how long the band practiced before their performance.  The things she refers to are the details -- as she well knows -- while the news is the shoe toss.  At the State Dept today Sean McCormack parroted and referenced Rice's really bad interview. As the head of the alleged diplomatic arm of the US plays the fool, Reporters Without Borders started calling for  the release of Muntadar on Tuesday:
We obviously regret that the journalist used this method of protest against the politics of the American press.  But for humanitarian reasons and to ease tension, we call for the release of Muntadar al-Zaidi who has been held by the Iraqi authorities for two days.  
Given the controvery surrounding this incident, we urge the Iraqi security services to guarantee the physical wellbeing of this journalist, who was clearly injured during his arrest.          
While we do not approve of this kind of behaviour as a means of expressing an opinion or convictions, the relaxed way in which George W Bush spoke about the incident afterwards, should give the Iraqi authorities all the more reason to show leniency.  
The Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life blog reminds that the issue in Iraq isn't just the Bully Boy of the United States, "the jokes also include Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who held out his hand to try to block the second shoe thrown at Mr. Bush."  On al-Maliki, Martin Sieff (UPI) declares, "The plotters arrested in Iraq's Interior Ministry did not pose a serious threat to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  But the very existence of the plot throws enormous doubt over the survival and stability of Iraq's 3-year-old democratic system, once the main combat force of the U.S. armed forces leaves the country."  Coup!  Oh goodness!  Oh nonsense.  Al Jazeera reports that Ministry of Interior's Abdul-Karim Khalaf for the record "dismissed suggestions that they [those arrested] had been plotting a coup."  Aseel Kami and Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) add that "Khalaf ridiculed speculation about a coup" and declared, "Suggesting there is a coup going on in Iraq is like saying an ant is going out to arrest an elephant."  Al Jazeera notes: "Brigadier-General Alaa al-Taei, the ministry's head of public relations, said those arrested were not accused of plotting a coup, but were suspected of planning to burn down the ministry, possibly to destroy evidence again" while MP Abbas al-Bayati states, "I think talking about a coup is an exaggeration."  Campbell Robertson and Tariq Maher (New York Times) broke the story and set the pattern for over reliance on official whispers.  Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) stuck with the facts: "It was unclear precisely why the officials were arrested.  Some said it was because they were involved in corruption involving the issuing of fake documents and car license plates.  Others described a more diabolical plot to resurrect al-Awda, or the Reutrn, a party composed of Hussein's loyalists that has been banned by the government. . . . Also unknown was whether the officials were trying to plot the overthrow of Maliki, who has been trying to cement his power in recent months, raising tensions with various political parties." Oliver August (Times of London) noted a problem with the reported versions early on, "Contrary to media reports that an elite military unit controlled by the Prime Minister made the arrests, the ministry spokesman said, 'The officers were connected to the Baath Party [once run by Saddam Hussein[ and they were arrested by our forces inside the ministry'."  Raheem Salman and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) added, "Western officials have described Maliki a religious Shiite, as deeply suspicious of a coup by Iraqi security officers, many of whom are secular and nostalgic for the old Iraqi army.  The prime minister has long sought to consolidate his power and control of the army and police.  All security forces now report back to his office."
Semi-Iraq note that should be higher up because it is POLICY.  Don't e-mail this site whining that you want your name removed from a publicity release sent out by an organization to be noted and noted here two years ago.  You shouldn't have taken part with the organization if you didn't want to be listed publicly (by them).  You and your actions are now part of the public record and NO, I DO NOT SCRUB that.  The public record is the public record.  Writing that you now have "privacy concerns"?  You took part in public actions, you are now part of the public record.  You can't airbrush it out. You went to DC to bear witness (and confront Congress) and you were available for interviews -- as one of the organization's press releases noted.  Sorry, that's public record.  We don't rewrite history here. Jess read the e-mail and Googled the woman's name.  She can try contacting the organization, Common Dreams and assorted other sites and maybe she'll have better luck with them but we do not alter the public record just because someone's no longer comfortable with their actions.
The Washington Post reminds everyone of president-elect Barack Obama's words last January:       

And when I am President, we will end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home; we will finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan; we will care for our veterans; we will restore our moral standing in the world; and we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes, because it is not a tactic to win an election, it is a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease.
This as Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker (New York Times) report that Barack's 16-month pledge on Iraq appears to be out the window as Generals Ray Odierno and David Petraeus' proposal was presented to Barack on combat forces being removed from Iraq (only combat forces).  The reporters state the meeting took place last week and lasted over five hours.  This revelation comes after a string of them including, as Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) explained Sunday, "American combat troops will remain inside Iraqi cities to train and mentor Iraqi forces after next summer, despite a security agreement that calls for their withdrawal from urban areas by June 30, the top U.S. military commander said Saturday."
While US forces aren't leaving anytime soon, Blackwater may be.  Today at the State Dept, Sean McCormack was asked if Blackwater's contract (to protect the State Dept) would be renewed and he replied: 
Well, there's a draft Inspector General's report circulating.  It's not yet completed.  I'm not going to comment on any of the particulars of it.  I will -- let me just back up a bit and talk about the decision-making process, about how we protect our diplomats in Iraq as well as elsewhere around the world.  Specifically on Iraq, we all recall the incidents around September 17th, and I know the FBI recently announced some moves to prosecute some individuals who were connected with those events who work for Blackwater.  That is going down a separate pathway, and the FBI and the Department of Justice can talk about those actions. 
Scott Shane (New York Times) writes of the draft, "The report says that if State Department contractors lose their immunity from criminal prosecution under Iraqi law, as many officials expect, employees of Blackwater and other contractors may choose to leave Iraq or demand higher pay. . . . Unlike some American contractors in Iraq, Blackwater does not have a license, but it has applied for one.  Iraqi authorities have allowed it to operate while officials consider the application."  Most important, Shane notes that the draft report warns that it is likely Blackwater will be banned by the Iraqi government.  That really removes the decision from the State Dept unless it makes a decision quickly.  Senators John Kerry and Bob Casey Jr. sent a letter to Secretary Rice this week:
Dear Madam Secretary:        

We are writing in response to recent news reports that Blackwater Worldwide ("Blackwater") -- which earlier this year had its multi-million dollar contract renewed with the U.S. State Department ("State") -- now intends to move away from private security contracting. As you know, Blackwater received harsh scrutiny for its heavy-handed U.S. private security efforts in Iraq following the deaths of 17 Iraqis in a September 16, 2007 shooting at Nisoor Square in Baghdad. While we welcome the opportunity that Blackwater's apparent decision provides to turn the page on contractor abuses, the move also raises important questions about the future role of private security contractors in personal protective service missions in Iraq and elsewhere.           

Blackwater's decision highlights longstanding concerns about the wisdom of relying so heavily on security contractors to perform overseas personnel protection missions. Looking ahead, to assess how these missions can be executed in the future, we request your help in providing answers to the following questions:        
(i) Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy said last week that he has not been notified of any change in Blackwater's intent to fulfill its renewed Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) contract. Is that your understanding?         

(ii) We understand that such a contract may be terminated at any time that it is considered in the United States' best interests to do so. Assuming that Blackwater intends to honor its recently-renewed contract, would a criminal indictment arising out of the September 16, 2007 incident be grounds for termination of its contract?        

(iii) On May 10, 2008, the New York Times cited claims by State officials that "only three companies in the world meet their requirements for protective services in Iraq, and the other two do not have the capability to take on Blackwater's role in Baghdad." Do you agree with this assessment? What had State been doing prior to this week's news to respond to this alleged capacity shortfall?        

(iv) Under Secretary Kennedy has stated that, "[i]f the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq." Taken together with the aforementioned May 10, 2008 statements attributed to State officials, it is clear that our options in Iraq are limited, perhaps even more so after Blackwater's reported decision to reduce significantly its private security profile. What, if any, steps does State propose to take to lessen its dependence on private security contractors?      

(v) In light of Blackwater's decision, are you considering expanding the number of full-time employees in the Diplomatic Security Service ("DS")? The October 2007 Report on the Secretary's Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq called for an overall increase of 100 positions in DS. What steps are being taken to implement this recommendation? Would State consider adding a more limited subset of DS personnel who are trained exclusively in personal protective services (rather than typically more general law enforcement activities) to improve relevant skills and contain costs? 

(vi) In response to a question Senator Kerry had posed in a June 5, 2008 letter 

regarding contingency plans in the event that contractor support becomes unavailable, the Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs Jeffrey Bergner wrote that work will be "competed or awarded sole source (depending on the circumstances) among the remaining WPPS vendors." However, given that State officials have previously cited a dearth of vendors and their apparent lack of capacity, is this a viable contingency plan? Has State prepared any other risk mitigation plans in the event Blackwater or other private security contractors are unable or unwilling to fulfill their contracts?       

(vii) As the United States reduces its troop presence in Iraq, do you anticipate increased military resources will be contributed to provide for the security of diplomatic personnel serving in Iraq, or do you anticipate this security responsibility will continue to fall to private security contractors?          

(viii) Where is the line that divides permissible conduct by private security contractors from their performance of "inherently governmental" functions? How have recent negative incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan informed your views, if at all, on this subject?             

Your prompt answers to these important questions can demonstrate that our government fully understands the implications of hiring private companies to engage in overseas security contracting, and has a sustainable plan to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere consistent with American interests and values.           

Thank you for your serious and timely consideration of this request. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this critical matter.         


John Kerry    
Bob Casey, Jr.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad mortar attack last night that claimed 1 life and six more people injured, a Baquba roadside bombing today that left eighteen injured and a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left a second injured.
Reuters notes 3 'suspects' shot dead in Mosul, 1 police officer wounded in Mosul and 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul.
Reuters notes Jelawish Hussein's corpse was discovered in Kirkuk.  The woman was "a member of the Communist party in Kirkuk".
Last night, Stan offered "Margret Kimberley, The Black Apologist," Cedric "Twinkees," Wally "THIS JUST IN! 2 PEAS IN A POD!," Trina's "St. Barack disappoints yet again," Mike's "Chuck and realities," Rebecca's "heroes and cry baby sarah posner," Marcia's "Barack shows the 'love' again," Ruth's "Barack's homophobia runs wild," Elaine's "Barack goes after the teachers unions," Kat's "The auto crisis" and Betty's "The New Adventures of Old Christine."  Stan, Ruth and Marcia covered Barack's latest attack on the LGBT community.  From People For the American Way, "People For the American Way 'Profoundly Disappointed' that Rick Warren Will Give Invocation:"

People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert responded today to the news that Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama:        

It is a grave disappointment to learn that pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama.       
Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.       
I'm sure that Warren's supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.      
Rick Warren gets plenty of attention through his books and media appearances. He doesn't need or deserve this position of honor. There is no shortage of religious leaders who reflect the values on which President-elect Obama campaigned and who are working to advance the common good.