Monday, January 5, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US Embassy in Baghdad has its grand opening (the banner reads "IMPERIALISM: OVER 1 BILLION SERVED!"), Dick Cheney carries his fantasy world around with him, Allawi slams al-Maliki, and more.
Today the US Embassy in Baghdad held their grand opening ceremony. Missy Ryan, Peter Graff, Tim Cocks (Reuters) report that John Negroponte (Deputy US Sec of State, former US ambassador to Iraq) and Jalal Talabani (President of Iraq) were on the guest list for the highly exclusive get-together -- well the Embassy is in the highly fortified Green Zone and Al Jazeera notes the "tight security". The three rocked rocked the house with nearly one-thousand additional guests. The Embassy's press releases brags, "The largest American Embassy structure to date, its scale reflects the importance of the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship. Construction began in 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a total cost of $592 million." $592 million would prevent a huge number of home foreclosures here in the US, but, hey, at least they didn't try to hide the cost today, right? Oops, they did try to hide the price tag. CNN plays party pooper informing that the $592 million was "the original price tag" but "the cost could end up $144 million higher" according to a 2007 Congressional report.
The Embassy notes that the guests gather to watch the US flag being raised by six Marines with music provided by the Army's 4th Infantry Division Band. That seven-person band is made up of "Commander, Iraq and Texas, Steadfast and Loyal Chief Warrant Officer Robert Nixon," "Commander, Fort Carson Colorado, Fit For Any Test Chief Warrant Officer Marvin Cardo," "First/Sergeant/Enlisted Band Leader, Fit For Any Test First Sergeant Jeremy Smelser," "Chief; Plans, Operations & Training Division/Rock Band Vocalist/Drum Major Sergeant First Class Dewayne Butcher," "Fit For Any Test, 'Nuf Said Sergeant First Class Troy Hascall," "Bringer of Rock, Burner of Things, Thrower of Towels, Fit For Any Test Sergeant First Class Sean Kerley" and "Trumpet Player, Chief, Logistic & Resource Management Division Sergeant First Clas Henry Reyna"
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker went with a dark suit for the occassion and used the standard GOP red tie for a splash of color while Jalal Talabani demonstrated, that fatty arteries or not, he's still going to eat what he wants and be damn proud of it. Which is how he turned a dark coat into a mumu. Well done, Jalal! Jalal knows the staff of the Mayo Clinic will suck the fat out of those arteries as often as necessary. Party like it's January 2007, Jalal! John Negroponte decided to indulge his Indiana Jones fantasy by wearing a hat (which he did remove for the US national anthem and the flag raising). And that was just outside!!! Tom A. Peter (Christian Science Monitor) drops the 411 on all the wack goings on including who played "the diplomatic equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter": "A US Army lieutenant colonel". Peter explains that the embassy has a schoolhouse; however, no need to worry that cramped the party mood today: "Although it's currently occupied by coalition forces representatives, embassy officials hope that one day, when the situation here normalizes, Iraq will be a family-friendly posting for diplomats. Just how far off that day is, embassy spokespeople are not willing to speculate". Alaa Majeed (UPI) points out, "But the transfer does not suggest the Iraqi government is competent beyond the walls of the Green Zone, which houses most of the state ministries. The Green Zone, since 2003, has split the capital, Baghdad, in two and emerged as a symbol of the inability of the government to bring dignity to the Iraqi people."
Deborah Haynes (Times of London) describes the backdrop to Crocker's speech, "As he spoke, the sound of helicopters buzzed overhead, a reminder of the ongoing US military presence in Iraq despite the shift in power. All US forces in the country came under the authority of the Iraqi Government on January 1 after a UN Security Council resolution authorising their presence expired." Talabani may have hit the party punch a little too hard because RTT quotes him declaring the US Embassy "will searve as a model for other peoples of the eastern world." Declared . . . or warned? Apparently Negroponte was hitting the party punch as well which is why Reuters quotes him stating, "It is from here men and women, civilian and military, will help build the new Iraq."
And maybe Dick Cheney, president of vice, started celebrating the opening of the embassy early because "drunk" would probably be an improvement over "liar" which is how he came off yesterday on CBS' Face The Nation (link has text and video) as he insisted of Iraq, "I think we are close to achieving most of our objectives. We've seen a significant reduction in the overall level of violence; it's lower now than virtually anytime since we've been there in the spring of '03. We've seen the elimination of one of the world's worst regimes. We've seen the Iraqis write a constitution and hold three national elections. We've now entered into a strategic framework agreement with the Iraqis that calls for ultimately the U.S. completion of the assignment and withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. All of those things I think by anybody's standard would be evidence of significant success. And I think we're very close to achieving what it is we set out to do five years ago when we first went into Iraq." The never met the benchmarks, Cheney, the ones defined by the White House. Two years later and they still can't claim to have met the benchmarks for progress -- as defined by the White House. These weren't longterm benchmarks. These were benchmarks they were actually supposed to have completed at the end of 2007. Two years later and they never managed to meet them. You can fudge it and say "partial" (as the White House did) but, for example, a de-de-Baathification law that not only provides no oversight but is never implemented. And if you're not grasping the reality of those benchmarks -- which the White House has treated as open-ended and the press has gone along with that lie . . . May 16, 2007, Democratic Policy Committee, "In September, the Iraqi government publicly committed to meet a series of political benchmarks by the end of 2006 or early 2007, for advancing the national reconciliation process, including measures for amending the constitution; holding provinical elections; reforming de-Baathification laws; regulating the oil industry; and disbanding sectarian militas." Dick Cheney wants to talk 'improvement,' refer to the benchmarks set by the White House and honestly tell the American people what was achieved.
And on the issue of getting honest about Iraq, Condi Rice, get honest. December 18, 2008 the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued [PDF format warning] "MEMORANDUM Re: The President's Claim that Iraq Sought Uranium from Niger". Background, there was no attempt by Iraq to obtain yellow-cake uranium from Niger. Former US Ambassador Joe Wilson went to great lengths to explain that fact and was 'thanked' by having his wife Valerie Plame outed as an undercover CIA agent. Bully Boy LIED in his 2003 State of the Union speech and also in a September 12, 2002 speech and a September 26, 2002 speech. The September speeches July 8, 2003, Bill Hemmer (CNN) spoke with Joe Wilson:
HEMMER: We'll take that answer as a bit of a foundation for this interview. Listen to what Condoleezza Rice said about a month ago, early June on "Meet the Press." I'm quoting right now. She says, "We did not know at the time -- no one knew at the time in our circles -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels in the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery" -- Condoleezza Rice back on June 8. You say that is not possible. Why not?
WILSON: Well, when I was at the National Security Council, and before I wrote my piece for "The New York Times," I actually checked with very senior officials of the National Security Council from the time I was there, as well as very senior officials in the vice president's office just to refresh my memory.
September 28, 2003, Condi sat back down on Meet The Press and this exchange took place between her and Tim Russert:
MR. RUSSERT: That was in January. And in June -- June 8 -- you were on MEET THE PRESS; I asked you about that, and this was your response.
(Videotape, June 8, 2003):
DR. RICE: The president quoted a British paper. We did not know at the time, no one knew at the time in our circles -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew -- that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery. Of course, it was information that was mistaken.
MR. RUSSERT: "No one in our circles." That has proven to be wrong.
DR. RICE: No, Tim, that has not proven to be wrong. No one did know that they were forgeries. The notion of the forgeries came in February or in March when this was--when this came to the CIA. It is true that we learned, subsequent to my comments to you, that Director Tenet did not want to stand by that statement. And I would never want to see anything in a presidential statement -- speech -- that the director of Central Intelligence did not want to have there.
And I'm the national security adviser. When something like this happens, I feel personally responsible for it happening because it obscured the fact that the president of the United States did not go to war over whether Saddam Hussein tried to acquire yellow cake in Africa. He went to war over a threat from a bloody tyrant in the most volatile region of the world who had used weapons of mass destruction before, and was continuing to try to acquire them. And so, of course, this should not have happened.
That's all American has because as the Committee On Oversight and Government Reform note, Condi refused to provide them with testimony -- repeatedly. At one point Alberto Gonzales (then US Attorney General) showed up allegedly offering remarks on her behalf and, in that capacity, Gonzales insisted Condi stated the CIA cleared the inclusion of the uranium claim in both September 2002 speeches. Not true. The Committee explaines John Gibson ("Director of Speechwriting for Foreign Policy at the National Security Council) testified that "Michael Gerson, chief White House speechwriter, and Robert Joseph, the Senior Director for Proliferation Strategy, Counterproliferation, and Homeland Defense at the NSC" were pushing to include it in the September 12, 2002 speech and the CIA objected. More importantly for Condi, this section of the memo:
On September 26, 2002, President Bush delivered remarks in the White House Rose Garden urging Congress to authorize the use of force in Iraq. During an interview with the Committee, Jami Miscik, the Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA, stated that NSC officials "woulnd't take [the uranium claim] out of the speech." As a result, she was asked to explain directly to Dr. Rice "the reasons why we didn't think this was credible." Ms. Miscik stated that "[i]t was clear that we had problems or we at the most fundamental level wouldn't have been haveing the phone call at all." According to Ms. Miscik, the CIA's reasons for rejecting the uranium claim "had been conveyed to the NSC counterparts" before the call, and Dr. Rice was "getting on the phone call with that information." Ms. Miscik told Dr. Rice personally that the CIA was "recommending that it be taken out." She also said "[i]t turned out to be a relatively short phone call" because "we both knew what the issues were and therefore were able to get to a very easy resolution of it."
So would Condi like to amend her public statement: "We did not know at the time, no one knew at the time in our circles -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew -- that . . ."? She clearly did know. The Deputy Director of Intelligence told her. Is Condi going to be pressed on that before she leaves the State Dept?
Dropping back to the weekend. Saturday Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation, was in Iran and Press TV was airing an interview they taped with him ahead of his visit. In the interview he suddenly began referring to the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement as a "withdrawal agreement" once again. He hasn't used that since November and he is the one who insisted, prior to the vote in Parliament that it be called that. The US called it a Status Of Forces Agreement -- grasping that to call it a withdrawal agreement would put the White House in clear violation of the US Constitution. When talking to the Vatican, Nouri pretends the fate of Iraqi Christians are the most important thing to him so, no surprise, when visiting Iran, he completely ignored the issue and spun life on the ground in Iraq as happy-happy. Sunday Xinhua reported he met with Ayatollah Ali Khammenei today and Khamenei told him that there will be no peace in Iraq as long as the US present: "The U.S. is treacherous and reneger and is not a good friend even for its close allies in the region, therefore, its promises cannot be trusted."
While al-Malilki was trying to look big, Iraq's first prime minister after Saddam, Iyad Allawi, was cutting him down. Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reported that "Former U.S.-installed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi" is offering a savage critique of the White House occupant and Nouri al-Maliki. "Utter failure," is how he characterizes the Bully Boy's policies. al-Ansary notes:
Maliki's government was characterised by "weak performance, erected upon political quotas, major government corruption and infiltrated state agencies," he said. "Four years passed ... and they can't build the police, army, national institutions."
"Ending Saddam's regime was essential, but replacing the Saddam regime with extreme chaos was not right," he said. "I did not imagine the political process would eat itself from inside or that it would abandon the rule of law and establish political sectarianism."
That was Saturday. Today Missy Ryan and Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) interview Allawi: "But Allawi blamed Maliki, from the religious Shi'ite Dawa party, for perpetuating divisions among Iraqis -- for example failing to enact measures passed by parliament that aim to bring ousted Baath party members back into government. 'Sectarianism still is the order of the day. You can't get a position in the government, even a junior position,' without meeting sectarian criteria, he said." They note Allawi is hoping the provincial elections scheduled for January 31st find his secular party making gains. Jafar Jani (Baghdad Life, Wall St. Journal) observes "a battle of paper and glue" as political posters go up and then get ripped down in Baghdad.
Saturday Waleed Ibrahim, Missy Ryan and Tony Austin (Reuters) reported that US forces shot Hadil Imad, an Iraqi news "producer for Biladi television stations," wounding her and her condition remains critical. When? Iraq and the US only wanted to get honest about it today but it took place January 1st -- remember that? The day of the big 'transfer,' the big 'transformation.' Hadil remains in the hospital and, not only is she a journalist, she'd gotten married the week prior. Campbell Robertson (New York Times) reported she was 24-years-old and Sunday Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reported that the channel she works for released a statement online that "said Imad was shot 'in cold blood' and noted that the incdent coincided with the implementation of the security agreement that Iraqi and U.S. officials have exalted as an affirmation of Iraq's sovereignty."
Yesterday's biggest violence was a bombing in Baghdad. Hussein Kadhim and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) report the bomber killed herself and "as many as 40 people" not far from "the holy Iman Musa al Kdhim shrine." Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) notes that the bombing was "20 yeards from a door to the . . . shrine" and adds, "Residents described scenes of carnage after the woman detonated the explosives at 11:15 a.m. on a cool, sunny morning. Dismembered bodies were strewn across a muddy road and near a covered market, the blast's force hurling some parts onto the roofs of nearby two-story buildings. Volunteers gathered bloodied pieces of flesh in black plastic bags. In the ensuing, chaotic minutes, witnesses said, some peopled vomited at the sight and smell of blood." Kimi Yoshino (Los Angeles Times) reports 72 wounded and observes, "It is the second major bombing in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Khadimiya since Dec. 27, when a minibus exploded, killing 24." "The attack was the second major bombing since US forces came under Iraqi Government authority on January 1. It also occurred as Iraqi leaders expressed confidence in their ability to defend Iraq at a ceremony to mark Army Day," points out Deborah Haynes (Times of London). Sam Dahger and Mudhafer al-Husaini (New York Times) zoom in on the reactions of survivors such as Mahdi Khrosorabadi who wonders, "Why do they tell us to come, why? Security is still very bad." An unnamed woman is quoted insisting, "An Iraqi is blowing up Iraqis! Money has blinded everyone."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report 7 Baghdad roadside bombings that left thirty-one people wounded and 2 dead, a Mosul car bombing that wounded five people and a Mosul roadside bombing that wounded seven college students.
Laith Hammoudi and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 "final year medicine college student" shot dead Mosul. Reuters notes "a student pharmacist" shot dead in Mosul (this is not the medical student -- they note that student as well)
Laith Hammoudi and Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 corpse discovered in Baghdad.
Did we see electricity 24 hours a day? NO. Did we see clean water coming out from the tap? NO. Did we see new hospitals? NO.Did we see new bridges and streets? NO.Did we see good food ration suitable for human beings and not only fit to chicken? NO.Did we see new residential compounds? NO and NO and NO and NO....
Did we see government officials in elegant western suits traveling in motorcades of modern armored vehicles? YES. Did we see new military vehicles and weapons? YES. Did we see more concrete walls? YES. Did we see sidewalks being built by Baghdad's Municipality workers and the next day the same workers demolish them to be built again the next day? YES and YES and YES and YES and YES...
Not quite the 'progress' report others keep spinning. Let's zoom in on one question and answer: "Did we see good food ration suitable for human beings and not only fit to chicken? NO." Friday the latest spin included how to 'help' Iraqi widows. Tony Perry (Los Angeles Times) reported that the US Marines purchased 50 cows for 50 widows in some sort of non-musical update to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Perry states it's a two-for, helping the "once-thriving dairy industry" and "women and children hurt by the frequent failure of the Iraqi government to provide the pensions". Helping women and children hurt by what? The pensions are an issue but the greater threat remains the rations. The White House is the one who repeatedly attacked the rations and tried to end them immediately. Too much objection to that so, instead, each puppet in Baghdad has whittled them down and whittled them down. And we're never supposed to notice the connection to this and the soaring malnutrition rates among Iraqi children. The fact that, during Saddam Hussein's reign, Iraqis got more staples each month isn't supposed to have a thing to do with the soaring malnutrition rates? This is the first year, in fact, that didn't draw to a close with news that the rations program was again being cut. Doesn't mean it wasn't, just means they haven't announced it yet if is being cut. IRIN reported yesterday that a survey by Iraq's government on whether or not to continue the rations program resulted in 95% of respondents stating that they would prefer it to some form of "financial aid." (Or, presumably, prefer it to a dairy cow.) IRIN explains:
Iraq's food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN's oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 17 years ago. However, it has been crumbling since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 due to insecurity, poor management and corruption.
In late 2007, the Iraqi Trade Ministry, which runs the programme, was contemplating reducing the 10-item PDS parcels by half in 2008 due to lack of financial support and soaring world food prices. However, the idea was later dropped when the government allocated US$7.3 billion to keep the programme running in 2008. Each PDS parcel costs the government 500 Iraq dinars (less than 50 US cents) per person.
In mid-2008, the trade ministry said it was drawing up a plan to be implemented in 2009 that would restrict the food aid programme to the poor and that it would cooperate with the planning ministry in this regard.
Mohammed Hanoon, spokesman of the Iraqi Trade Ministry, said the government was under a lot of pressure to cut its 2009 budget due to low world oil prices and was therefore planning to allocate US$5 billion or less this year to the PDS. The Iraqi government depends on oil revenues for about 95 percent of its income.
"The cabinet has not yet responded to the ministry's plan to reduce the number of beneficiaries and we cannot predict the fate of the food ration [system] this year or 2010," Hanoon told IRIN.
Finally, the losses have been many for Iraqis throughout the illegal war. The losses of those making up the so-called coalition of the willing have been numerous as well. Today the White House noted their sorrow over a loss:
The President, Mrs. Bush, Barbara, and Jenna are deeply saddened by the passing of their cat India ("Willie"). The 18 year-old female black American Shorthair died Sunday, January 4, 2009 at home at the White House.
When Barbara was nine years old, she named India after the former Texas Ranger baseball player, Ruben Sierra, who was called "El Indio." When Barbara and Jenna moved away to college, India, affectionately called "Kitty" by the family, stayed at the White House with the President and Mrs. Bush.
India was a beloved member of the Bush family for almost two decades. She will be greatly missed.
Finally, a death that grieves the White House.