Thursday, January 08, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, January 8, 2008.  Chaos and violence continue, another US service member dies in Iraq, the UN discusses refugees, Barack attacks Social Security, and more.
Today Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, informed the UN Security Council about the refugee crisis in the world and noted that the total number of refugees falling under the UNHCR is 11 million -- up from 9 million in 2006 -- with the numbers being driven by Somalia and Iraq.  The United Nations notes of his briefing, "In Iraq, UNHCR was working hard to help the Government create appropriate conditions for the voluntary return and sustainable reintegration of refugees and the internally displaced, he said.  Two million Iraqis were hosted mainly by Jordan and Syria, and a similar number remained displaced inside their own country.  UNHCR called on the more prosperous States to offer full support to countries and organizations bearing the brunt of the Iraqi exodus.  To prepare for returns, UNHCR had redeployed its represenatives for Iraq from Amman to Baghdad and established an international presence in Erbil, Mosul and Basra.  Beyond security, sustainable return to Iraq would require effective action in the areas of property restitution or compensation, and full and equitable access to welfare services and public distribution systems."
Yesterday the US Department of Defense announced "the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Staff Sgt. Anthony D. Davis, 29, of Daytona Beach, Fla., died Jan. 6 in Northern Iraq, of wounds suffered when he was shot by enemy forces.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia."  Audrey Parente (Daytona Beach News-Journal) has a strong article on Davis's life.  M-NF never announced that death.  The way it works -- when it works -- is that M-NF announces a death has occurred.  Later, after the family has been notified, DoD issues the name of the deceased.  4223 is the current number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
Repeating, 4223.  Not 4213, as Eric Owles maintains in a New York Times blog post  allegedly written today: "Will it be the Iraq where 4,213 American service members and an estimated 90,000 Iraqis have been killed?"  Christmas Day, the death toll was 4217.  When did Owles write that 'think' piece?  Again, the date on it says today but today's death toll is 4223.  As for 90,000?  If he can't even get the US death toll correct, don't expect miracles when it comes to Iraqis.  Approximately 1.3 million Iraqis have died since the start of the illegal war.  Owles is using the numbers from the laughable Iraq Body Count -- numbers embraced by Bully Boy, in case anyone forgot.  SourceWatch notes of Iraq Body Count, "However, as Medialens notes: 'In reality, IBC is not primarily an Iraq Body Count, it is not even an Iraq Media Body Count, it is an Iraq Western Media Body Count'."  Having tired himself out handling bad numbers, Owles steers readers this post by Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) where Ricks predicts that 2009 will be "tougher" in 2009 than it was in 2008 and that "Obama's war in Iraq may last longer than Bush's".  Ricks also notes, "The recent Status of Forces Agreement also means less than it seems.  For example, U.S. forces are supposed to get out of major bases in the cities later this year.  But there really aren't major big bases in the cities now -- the last time I was in Iraq I was told there is really only one -- and U.S. military advisors will remain in urban outposts along with Iraiq forces.  I suspect the SOFA really is most meaninful for the political help it will give Prime Minister Maliki in getting re-elected at the end of 2009 by taking the American presence off the table as a wedge issue for Iraqis."
A presence kind-of departing Iraq is the Denmark military.  The Copenhagen Post reports that the last six Danish military officers have left: "The UN mandate for the force ran out at the start of the year and the Iraqi authorities have not asked the Danes to remain in the country." But the paper reports, "Between 40 and 50 members of the armed forces remain in Iraq providing security for the embassy, connected with the UN and on a Nato training mission."  As Stevie Nicks once sang, "No one ever leaves, every one stays, close til the fire fades" ("Fireflies," written by Nicks, on Fleetwood Mac Live).  Sidebar: Stevie joins bandmates Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Lindsey Buckingham for the group's first tour which kicks off March 1st in Pittsburgh (March tour dates are up at Fleetwood Mac's site).
No one ever leaves . . .  Elaine Brower (World Can't Wait) reports what happened to those who protest the illegal war in 2009.  Tuesday when Congress did it's first day of 'business' (Its business, so very rarely ever the people's business),  Activist Response Team staged a March of the Dead which found 70 or so activists in "white masks and wearing all black signifying the souls of those who will be haunting the criminals who are sending bombs to kill Iraqis, Afghanis, Palestinians and members of the military who are the lethal arm of this government's quest for empire" begam marching in the rain through DC, stopping at the Supreme Court before moving onto the Senate Hart Building where they unfurled banners in the atrium as the names of some of the dead were read out loud.  The banners read "THE AUDACITY OF WAR CRIMES," "IRAQ," "AFGHANISTAN" and "PALESTINE" and "Capitol Police, who were present when the march came into the building, quickly responded to remove the words that were so hurtful to those who were guilty of committing these war crimes.  Within seconds, the banners were pulled up, but it gave press and other independent media a chance to photograph it all.  An everlasting message to the murderers who keep spending taxpayer dollars to kill innocent people.  At that point seven people were arrested for unfurling the words of truth, but those on the ground floor of the Hart Buidling remained reading the names of the dead.  The police were gathering in force, and just as a secure perimeter was formed around the masked readers, another banner announcing 'WE WILL NOT BE SILENT' was dropped.  Quickly, three people were carted off by the police, and the banner was cut down."  In all, 17 activsts were arrested including those 'guilty of the crime' of reading the names of the dead outloud. 
Though democracy is never 'exportable' possibly the White House had such a difficult time with 'giving' it to Iraq because it wasn't to be found in much of the US?  But they will try again January 31st when provincial elections are scheduled.  Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that yesterday's Holy day was seen as a campaign tool for "Iraq's ruling Shiite Muslim parties" and they conducted a poster war "from Baghdad to the southern city of Karbala" in anticipation of the provincial elections in "14 of the country's 18 provinces." Fadel notes that a number of voters state they will not vote for "their sects or their ethnicity" due to no progress on the ground in terms of basic services. A former school teacher, Widad Hamid, offers another reason, "Unfortunately it seems that when all is told it is Shiite support Shiite."  (Hamid is Sunni.)  Fadel judges the race in "the Shiite south" to be chiefly between Nouri al-Maliki's United Iraqi Alliance-Islamic Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and notes some were not pleased to see the Holy day co-opted by political campaigns.  Basheer Aoun al Anbari states, "Under the past regime God cursed us.  Now God curses us again.  It upsets us that they use our religion.  They did not apply what Imam Hussein symbolizes: justice."  Kimi Youshino (Los Angeles Times' Babylon & Beyond) observes that the "concrete blast walls make the perfect blank canvas for election posters" and that, "Judge Qasim Hasan Abodi, head of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, said several candidates and political parties have been warned about defacing posters -- as well as putting them in  areas off-limits for posters, including government buildings and security checkpoints."  Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports that many, many men celeberated the Holy day in honor of Iman Hussein -- allegedly a holiday for all Shi'ites but al-Maliki refused to allow women to participate.  Allegedly, the fact that suicide bombers are women resulted in them being blocked from the ceremonies.  Of course, many, many more suicide bombers are men and no one blocked them from celebrating.
In some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Basra rocket attack that left four people wounded and 2 Diyala roadside bombing the claimed the lives of 6 Iraqi soldiers with three more wounded. Jordan's  Al-Bawaba adds, "According to the AP, an official at the provincial security headquarters in Diyala province said the bombs went off simultaneously Thursday at about 2 a.m. as the patrol was in a village near Jalula.UPI notes the 6 dead and notes another "bombing occured in Rashad . . . killing two [Iraqi] soldiers and wounding two others." Reuters drops back to Wednesday to note a Mosul roadside bombing that left "two municipality cleaners" injured.
Reuters notes "the head of the Badr organisation" was shot dead outside Tuz Khumato.
Yesterday the US State Dept declared that it was supporting "a project to develop a plan for the management and preservation of the archaeological site of Babylon.  Funded to nearly $700,000 this project will be carried out by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in partenrship with the IRaq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH).  Bablyon stands out among Iraq's rich contributions to humanity" and goes on to speak about the US "respect for the cultural heritage of Iraq."  Damn shame that was nowhere to be found when Iraq's antiquities were being looted.
In the United States, the Department of Defense is in the news again.  A form letter was sent out to the families of service members who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan and the letter opened, "Dear John Doe,". Julian E. Barnes (Los Angeles Times) insists this was due to a software problem -- he offers no proof for that but keep insisting if it makes you feel good.  Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) explains there were 7,000 form letters in all and that the miliary is blaming the subcontractor but was saying that they (the military) still "bore ultimate responsibility" for the error/insult and US Army Gen George W. Casey Jr. will be signing 7,000 form letters of apology.  Bumiller notes that the military has stated either a computer glitch or human error caused the problem.  Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) speaks with the mother of the late US Army Sgt. Michael Carlson, 22 when he died January 24, 2005 in Iraq.  Merrille Carlson states, "The indication that anyone would perceive that a hero is not significant, that they would not direct this personally to them, is shattering.  While it's a simple mistake, it's a very tragic mistake."  Columnist Sharon Grigsby (Dallas Morning News) suggest the military find "a few good copy editors" and concludes, "I've read The Official Line, that it was a printing error by a contractor who forgot to change the placeholder greeting.  The Army should have just stuck with the apology and not tried to pass the buck."
And the Pentagon, as UPI notes, has ruled PTSD? No big woop.  Certainly not worthy of a Purple Heart.  Lizette Alvarez and Erik Eckhom (New York Times) report multiple excuses and minimizations but no real reasons from those who speak to them about the topic.  If you read closely, you also grasp that you're seeing why so many suffering from PTSD initially refuse to seek help: The military continues to treat it as a nothing. Read the article, it's not even a 'real' wound. That's the attitude and it's why all the fliers posted in barracks won't change the reluctance of service members, as they prepare for discharge, to say, "I need help."  Who needs help from something so insignificant, so minor? Military Order of Purple Heart's John Bircher III 'explains,' "There were wounds there" for 'real' injuries and that to receive a Purple Heart, "Shedding blood is the objective."

That is so insulting and it backs up the culture of denial inbred in the US military when it comes to PTSD. Until it's confronted, many will not receive the treatment they need. The Pentagon's latest stunt and the remarks by so many in the article go a long way towards ensuring that PTSD is not seen as the very real war wound that it is.  Again, posters in barracks and pamphlets left on tables won't change the perception of PTSD when the entire military culture from on high repeatedly insists it's not 'really' a wound.  George Harris (Kansas City Star) dismisses the absurd notion that PTSD isn't worthy of a Purple heart because it's "not caused intentionally" by noting that "no one can argue that the enemy's specific intention in Iraq is to remove a soldier's arm or leg.  There intention is to kill" and he notes:
The general public has long stigmatized people with mental illness. In pre-scientific times, mental illness was believed to result from demons, and in modern times some people still believe that people could control mental illness with more desire and self-control.  
But severe mental illness, such as PTSD, is accompanied by actual physical changes in the brain. Brain imaging techniques are improving and revealing areas of the brain that show abnormal activity in these disorders.
I am Benji Lewis. I deployed to Iraq twice in 2004 and 2005 and was discharged honorably in 2007. Recently I have been involuntarily activated from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) by the U.S. Marine Corps in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, an activation that I have been publicly refusing. 
The IRR is an inactive group of service members who still have time remaining on their signing agreements and are eligible to call up in states of emergency. The current state of emergency is the open-ended Global War on Terror that includes the occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan.  
Because of falling reenlistment levels, the United States is finding it difficult to procure sufficient manpower in its efforts overseas. Thus the U.S. government is finding it necessary to reactivate members from the IRR to stave off its shortage of personnel.   
Another Iraq War veteran is out of the service finally.  Suzanne Swift who was harassed and command raped attempted to go through channels and get help.  The military did nothing.  Swift self-checked out -- something any sane person would have done in her situation (a sane person might have also grabbed a gun and shot dead her or his attacker) and when her story was finally known, the military tried to silence and punish her and refused to discharge her.  Monday, Veterans For Peace published an e-mail from Sara Rich (Suzanne's mother) explaining Suzanne was finally free: "December 31 marked the last official day of Suzanne Swift's active military duty.  She sent me a text message after she finished handing in her signed paper work, "DONE" it read."
Turning to US politics, as Cedric and Wally pointed out last night, Barack's ready to 'tackle' that mythical Social Security 'crisis.'  Patrick Murphy (WSWS) explains, "Barack Obama took the occasion of his first press appearance in Washington as president-elect to declare his determination to impose policies of budgetary austerity, including the elimination of entire federal programs and cost-cutting in the entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that are of vital importance to tens of millions of elderly and poor people."  Murphy goes on to warn against the impending "frontal assault on the most important components of what remains of a social safety net in the United States -- the programs that provide at least minimal retirement benefits and medical coverage for tens of millions of elderly people, as well as medical coverage for millions of low-income families."  Too busy wallowing in his own filth, The 'Progressive's CEO Matthew Rothschild praises the speech and begins his long belch/gush with, "One of the things I like most about Barack . . ."  Do tell, sweetie, do tell. ("Obama Hits Many High Notes in Speech on the Economy" -- no link to trash, Google it if you need a good laugh.)  Hillary Is 44 ignores Matty Roth's recommended Kool-Aid (Spineless Saffrow flavored) and declares, "Obama has now revealed what his legacy is to be -- the destruction of Social Security.  Ignore the flowery words, Obama is planning a great treachery.  Expect PINOs to be silent." Murphy (PUMA Pac) notes, "No wonder the Wall Street Boiz gave so much money to the Precious (ooh, that soft money feels so good).  Fat times ahead for them.  Hats in hand for the rest of us.  Thought it will be rawther amusing to watch teh BOIZ' reaction to this hard swing right."  Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque) offers this context:
This is of course the same argument that George W. Bush made after the 2004 election, when he sought to sell off Social Security to those same "financial markets" that Obama is now trying so assiduously to soothe. No doubt, we will soon see the old scare stories that filled the media then trotted out once again, this time in "progressive" garb. But the truth remains the same: the programs are essentially sound and can be maintained with only relatively small adjustments for many decades, as far as one can reasonably project into the future.          

Yet it is here, on "entitlements," that Obama wants to make a "tough stand" on government spending. It will be a "central part" of his entire economic program. Getting "entitlements" under control will be one of the first major campaigns of his administration, he says, promising plans in February, just days after he moves into the White House.         

At the same time, he promises to expand -- to expand -- the multitrillion-dollar war machine that has literally bled the nation dry. He wants to expand a military-industrial-security complex that already devours more money and resources than every other military force on earth combined. He wants more troops, more weapons, an ever-increasing "global strike capability," an escalation of the endless, pointless "War on Terror" in Afghanistan and Pakistan (for starters). He has never said a single word about "curbing government spending" on this vast conglomerate of death and destruction. He has not said a single word about rolling back even a few of American military outposts that in their several hundreds now cover the entire globe. At every point, it seems, government spending on the war machine -- including the tens of billions of dollars spent in secret each year on the various tentacles of the "national security" apparatus -- will be increased under the Obama administration.

No "cutbacks" here then. No concerns that spending in this area might "grow so large as to be unsustainable in the long run." Spending on death and domination is sacrosanct, the true "third rail of American politics," and Obama is not going to touch it -- except to augment it.
Also on Barack, we'll note this from ETAN:

Adm. Blair Poor Choice as Director of National Intelligence, Says Rights Group
Blair's History with Indonesia and East Timor Raises Questions about Likely Nominee              
Contact: John M. Miller, +1-718-596-7668, +1-917-690-4391               
Ed McWilliams, +1-703-899-5285            

January 7 - The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) called Adm. Dennis Blair "a poor choice for intelligence director." The group urged President-elect Obama to reconsider the nomination, and make a break from past policies that have undermined human rights worldwide.                 

"During his years as Pacific Commander, Blair downplayed human rights concerns. He actively worked to reinstate military assistance and deepen ties with Indonesia's military despite its ongoing rights violations in East Timor and consistent record of impunity," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.
"Admiral Blair undermined U.S. policy in the months preceding the U.S.-supported and UN-sponsored referendum in East Timor in 1999," said Ed McWilliams, a senior U.S. embassy official in Jakarta at the time. "While senior State Department officials were pressing the Indonesian military to end the escalating violence and its support for militia intimidation of voters, Blair took a distinctly different line with his military counterparts. As Pacific Commander, his influence could have caused the military to rein in its militias. Instead, his virtual silence on the issue in meetings with the Indonesian generals led them and their militias to escalate their attacks on the Timorese."                   

"Blair's actions in 1999 demonstrated the failure of engagement to temper the Indonesian military's behavior; his actions helped to reinforce impunity for senior Indonesian officials that continues to this day," added Miller.          

"The extraordinarily brutal Indonesian retaliation against the East Timorese and the UN teams in East Timor following the Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia transpired in part because of Blair's failure to press U.S. Government concerns in meetings with the Indonesian general," said McWilliams.      

In April 1999, just days after Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies carried out a brutal churchyard massacre, Adm. Blair delivered a message of 'business-as-usual' to Indonesian General Wiranto, then Commander of the Indonesian armed forces. Following East Timor's pro-independence vote, Blair sought the quickest possible restoration of military assistance, despite Indonesia's highly destructive exit from the territory.                   


As Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002, Blair was the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region during the final period of Indonesia's violent occupation of East Timor. During that time he undermined the Clinton administration's belated efforts to support human rights and self-determination in the Indonesian-occupied territory and opposed congressional efforts to limit military assistance.                     

In April 1999, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, then the Defense Minister and the commander of Indonesian forces, just two day after dozens of refugees in a Catholic church in the town of Liquica, East Timor were hacked to death with machetes by militia members backed by the military (including Kopassus) and Brimob troops.                        

Instead of pressuring Wiranto to shut down the militias, Blair promised new military assistance, which the Indonesian military "took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation," according to Allan Nairn, writing in the Nation magazine. In fact just weeks later, refugees from the attack in Liquicia were again attacked and killed in the capital in Dili.                   

Nairn reported that a classified cable summarizing the meeting said that Admiral Blair "told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest... [Blair] expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to... selected TNI [Indonesian military] personnel on crowd control measures." Nairn writes that the last offer was "quite significant, because it would be the first new U.S. training program for the Indonesian military since 1992."                  

Princeton University's Bradley Simpson writes "According to top secret CIA intelligence summary issued after the [Liquica] massacre, however (and recently declassified by the author through a Freedom of Information Act request), 'Indonesian military had colluded with pro-Jakarta militia forces in events preceding the attack and were present in some numbers at the time of the killings.'"           

In the bloody aftermath of East Timor's independence vote, "Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor. Given the country's history, they argued, it could have been worse," reported the Washington Post's Dana Priest.     

U.S.-trained Indonesian military officers were among those allegedly involved in crimes against humanity in East Timor. "But at no point, Blair acknowledges, did he or his subordinates reach out to the Indonesian contacts trained through IMET or JCET [U.S.-funded programs] to try to stop the brewing crisis," wrote Priest. "It is fairly rare that the personal relations made through an IMET course can come into play in resolving a future crisis," he told her.         

Despite Blair's repeated overtures and forgiving attitude to Indonesia's military elite, they were of no help in his post-military role as chair of the Indonesia Commission at the influential Council on Foreign Relations. In 2002, Blair headed a delegation of observers who intended to visit West Papua. The government refused to let them in, with the Foreign Minister declaring that "there is no need for them to come to Papua."          

The reason was clear: West Papua has become the new focus of Indonesian military and militia brutality and outside observers are not welcome. Though Blair's dream of renewed military engagement with Indonesia has been realized under the Bush administration, the Indonesian military's human rights violations continue, as does impunity for its senior officers.                

General Wiranto was indicted in February 2003 by a UN-backed court in East Timor for his command role in the 1999 violence. The attack on the Liquica church is among the crimes against humanity cited in the indictment. He is currently a leading candidate for President of Indonesia in elections to take place next year.
ETAN was formed in 1991. The U.S.-based organization advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN was a major participant in the International Federation for East Timor's (IFET) observer mission for the 1999 referendum. For more information see ETAN's web site.