Thursday, January 22, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, provincial elections loom, a governor 'escapes,' Kurtz and Kimberley offer up some reality, and more.
Starting with presidential children: Qubad Talabani. He is the son of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, and he is also the Kurdish Regional Government's DC representative. The Kurdish Globe reports he's very hopeful of the new administration in DC and quotes him praising Sec of State Hillary Clinton (she was sworn in last night) as well as mentioning US Vice President Joe Biden. How well placed or misplaced his hopes on that may be are open to debate but someone needs to explain political parties to him. He states of the KRG, "The government should be left to conduct duties away from political parties' intervention. We should now clearly show what duties are for the government and what role political parties might have." A mammoth and most likely impossible project. And that it's being promoted by Qubad Talabani may be an indication of political immaturity in the KRG (which would be classified thus far as a rebellion and not a revolution). Massoud Barzani is the president of the KRG and the Kurdish Globe reports he's all for Kurds and Arabs being close due "to the historical bonds of friendship" but it's a funny kind of friendship wherein he rejects Arab councils (he's referring to the "Awakening" Councils). In the KRG? No. In "adjacent areas." While maintaining that the KRG has no interest in attempting to control Mosul, his attempts to dictate what Mosul can and cannot do is an attempt to control. Mosul is in the Nineveh Province and it is not a part of the Kurdish region. Barzani states that if they are set up in areas adjacent to the KRG, it will "trigger" violence That's a far cry from their position -- when al-Maliki was sending troops into Mosul back in May -- of "We, the KRG, support any plan or attempt by the central government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki aimed at the stabilization of security and enhancement of the sovereignty of the State." When al-Maliki just knew (he was wrong) the provincial elections were just around the corner, he was happy to launch his "clear, hold, build" campaigns. As the Defense Ministry's spokesperson Maj Gen Moahmmed al-Askari stated June 25th, "The decision of the commander in chief, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, before the end of this month and before the provincial eleciton, we should secure all cities. Therefore, the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior put a schedule in coordination with Multi-National Force to clear up these cities according to the importance of the city and its priorities." Basra and Mosul were targeted in February. Diyala and Maysan would follow. September 18th, KUNA would report that al-Maliki had pronounced the Nineveh Province operation (Umm al-Rubai'in") a failure: "There are factors that resulted in failure of Umm Al-Rubai'in military operations. . . . We can attribute the successes of other military operations to the effective cooperation by citizens which we did not find in Mosul."
Mosul has an estimated population of 1.8 million, making it Iraq's second largest city (population wise). It is a hot bed that finally garnered serious attention when the attacks on Iraqi Christians began there last fall. While talk of 'calmer' and 'safer' abounds, Mosul charted at least 915 reported deaths for 2008 which comes to 76.25 per month. (That's from a friend at M-NF who says it should track closely with Iraq Body Count. Translation, the number of reported deaths were probably higher.) Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports on the province's governor, Duraid Kashmoula, who failed and plans to "leave for exile in the semiautonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan after his successor is picked by a newly elected provincial council."
As late as January 11, 2007, the US military was singing Kashmoula (a former car parts salesperson) 'leadership' abilities. M-NF posted Maj Roderick Cunningham's report and "Ninewa" is Nineveh Province while "Twitty" is US Col Stephen Twitty and Kashmoula was present for the praise:
Recognizing the similar levels of violence in a comparable city in America, Twitty paints an optimistic picture of the current state of Mosul and Ninewa Province.
"Amdist the turmoil and issues that persist in Iraq, there is a semblance of peace and normalcy in the north. Ninewa's leadership works hard to provide its citizens security, build its economy, and implement programs that will continue to keep sectarian violence from the province," Twitty said. "One thing we cannot do is attempt to put an American standard on any Iraqi city."
Or, apparently, utilize any form of standards at all. That is why Parker can offer, "This provincial capital [Mosul] is a shambles, a sea of gray concrete buildings, with police and army checkpoints everywhere, thunderous explosions almost every day. Services are nonexistent." And now the soon to be outgoing governor intends to slink off to the Kurdistan region. It should be remembered that while the Iraqi Christians were being attacked, Duraid Mohammed Kashmoula could hold press confrences (and state at least 3,000 had fled), he just couldn't do anything to offer protection. CNN reported the US military stressed that Kashmoula "has been working with sheiks and local leaders in the area to bring about peace and stability to the city" of Mosul. Of course, CNN reported that in September . . . 2004. And when the assault on Mosul was taking place in 2008, Kashmoula was cozy with al-Maliki and giving the green light. Pepe Escobar (Asia Times) reported in May, "Tribal chiefs had to plead to Mosul governor Duraid Kashmoula, according to the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad: 'The Council of Arab tribes in Mosul reported that the government cut off water supplies from the right side of the city for two days as part of a collective punishment policy against Arabs who refused to deny their pan-Arabism, and reject the campaign of 'Kurdishization' of the city'." Escobar noted Sunnis were being driven out by al-Maliki and explained, "No one has asked the million-dollar-question: How come multicultural Mosul - a non-Kurdish city - is now being ruled by deputy governor Khoso Goran, a Kurd?" The Kurdish Globe quotes Barzani stating today, "I urge you to be wary of allegations that the Kurds have ambitions for Mosul and are on the verge of controlling Mosul. These assertions could have dangerous consequences. Incitement to sedition and discord is a heinous crime."
The hopium across the outlets is that Barack is moving, moving on Iraq. The reality is very different. William Wharton (Dissident Voice) analyzes a segment of yesterday's PBS Newshour:
More significant resistance will be provided to any serious attempt to end the US occupation of Iraq. Evidence of this was provided during the nightly News Hour program aired on Wednesday January 21st. The segment was entitled "Next Steps for Iraq," and featured the pro-Bush retired General Jack Keane and the Obama-ally retired General Wesley Clarke. Both Keane and Clarke delivered a clear message -- no troop removal anytime soon.
Keane, the military author of Bush's "surge strategy," claimed that Obama's campaign pledge to remove troops by 2010 "rather dramatically increases the risks" in Iraq. He recommended a "minimal force reduction" in order to "protect the political situation." Though a 2010 departure was "a risk that is unacceptable," Keane assured viewers that "Everyone knows that we are going to take our troops out of Iraq."
The Democratic Party's dog in the fight, Wesley Clarke had little bite as be agreed with Keane's assessment "it [Obama's troop removal pledge] is risky." "When President Obama made that pledge almost a year ago," Clarke claimed, "the context of what combat troops was, was taken from the legislation that was going back and forth through the House and the Senate." He then provided a key qualification, "Distinguishing combat troops from trainers, from counter-insurgency troops or counter-terrorist troops that would go against Al-Quada in Iraq and distinguishing them from the logistics troops." "So," Clarke concluded, "to say that all combat troops will be out in 2010 in sixteen months doesn't necessarily mean that all troops will be out by 2010."
If this double-speak was not enough, Clarke then provided another clear signal that the Obama campaign pledge may fall far short of anything resembling a remotely anti-war position. Clarke praised Keane as the architect of the surge policy and "the success that has been achieved through it."
[. . .]
The Clarke-Keane discussion should be quite useful for anti-war activists. It clearly signals that the "surge-consensus" forged by the Bush administration is still fully operative among the military establishment in Washington. Obama's desire for continuity in military strategy, signaled clearly through his re-appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, should be understood as his acceptance of the positions articulated by Keane and Clarke. This presents a sharp challenge to the anti-war movement.
The 'pledge' was never genuine -- as Samantha Power told the BBC in March of 2008 -- and what he 'promised' at his rallies wasn't even what he was saying elsewhere. "Combat" troops was always his weasel term. We'll drop back to the January 15th snapshot:
Today Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker (New York Times) report on the US military commanders contingency plan for Iraq. Last month Bumiller and Shanker reported on the military commanders presenting a partial drawdown of US troops in Iraq on a slower scale than Barack's 'pledge' of 16 month withdrawal (of "combat" troops only). No objections were raised over the timeframe by the president-elect but, in case objections are registered in the immediate future, they've come up with an alternate plan they could implement. This calls for a high of 8,000 a month (more likely four to six thousand) to be pulled. Using the high figure, 48,000 US service members could be out of Iraq (with at least 30,000 of that number redeployed to Afghanistan) in six months. That would still leave close to 100,000 US troops in Iraq. And there is no full withdrawal planned by Barack. That is why he refused to promise that, if elected, all US troops would be out of Iraq by the end of his first term (2012). Of course, Barack also rushed to assure the Times (2007) that he would easily halt any drawdown and rush more troops back into Iraq (and no words to declare this a temporary measure) when he sat down with Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny (see this Iraq snapshot and Third's article and the actual transcript of the interview -- a transcript Tom Hayden should have read before humiliating himself in public, then again Tom-Tom seems to enjoy public humiliation). So the article tells you that the military's preparing for all possibilities . . . except the possibility the American people want (and some foolishly believe Barack ever promised) full withdrawal of Iraq. That is not an option the military even considers. And the report is backed up by the statements Pentagon spokesperson Goeff Morrell made today, "Our military planners do not live in a vacuum. They are well aware that the president-elect has campaigned on withdrawing troops from Iraq on a 16-month timeline. . . . So it would only be prudent of them to draw up plans that reflect that option. But that is just one of the options that they are drawing up."
Officialdom is so confused as to what Barack's doing or will do or may do. It's all a lot of . . . To chart the latest, we'll first drop back to yesterday's snapshot for the will-he-or-won't-he:
Back to the US press breakfast with the general. Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times' The Caucus) notes another point Chiarelli discussed. Asked about withdrawal of 'combat' troops within 16 months (popularly presented as Barack's 'pledge') his reply included, "You can pick up and leave anything very quickly, but if you do, you'll leave it in a certain condition that won't be as good if you went through a certain deliberative process of working through those issues. And there's a lot of logistical issues that have to be worked through, and I think everybody has to understand that, that you can do antyhing, but it just depends on how you want to look and what instructions are given for what you bring and what you leave behind and the contition that you leave your operating bases in when you leave." That's nonsense and Barack could safely withdraw all US troops from Iraq in his first 100 days if he wanted. Now follow closely because it's about to get confusing. AP reports that Ali al-Dabbagh, Nouri al-Maliki's mouthpiece to the press, has declared that US service members could leave Iraq "even before the end of 2011." That's what the Status Of Forces Agreement masquerading as a treaty could allow for (departure in 2011) if it was followed and not altered or cancelled (either party can cancel it). Barack's 16-month 'pledge' (only for 'combat' troops) would mean 'combat' troops would be out in April 2010. While al-Maliki's spokesperson stated 'sure, leave early,' others sent a different message. Camilla Hall and Zainab Fattah (Bloomberg News) report Hoshyar Zebari (Iraq's Foreign Minister) disagrees and states, "Nobody can afford in 2009 to contemplate any change in military policy. . . . [We can't] give any impression that there will be draw-downs, reductioins, redeployment because this year Iraq has three elections." So which is it? When pressed, al-Maliki's spokesperson has a long history -- as does the puppet -- of backing down.
Aseel Kami and Michael Christie (Reuters) report other 'official' voices has waded in: US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker who asserts that there will be no quick withdrawal and Iraq's Minister of Defense Abdel Qader Jassim who also nixed a quicked withdrawal.
In nine days, 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces will hold elections. Missy Ryan (Reuters) reports that some voters who supported theocrats in 2005 are voicing their displeasure and notes, "Such rumblings are a warning for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI) -- which represent Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority -- and the Iraqi Islamic Party which is the biggest Sunni Arab group." And that byline is actually Missy Ryan, Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas, Peter Graff, Aref Mohammed, Khaled Farhan, Fadhel al-Badrani, Michael Christie and Tim Pearce. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that 2009 sees an "open ballot" allowing voters to vote candidates as opposed to 2005 and Londono offers this analysis:
The provincial contests, as well as national parliamentary elections expected in the fall, will offer new clarity about the balance of power among Iraq's parties, several of which have resorted to violence over the past few years in the pursuit of power.
The relationship between the central government and provincial authorities is also on the line, which has prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to create and fund "support councils" in provinces where his Dawa party does not have deep roots. Maliki also has become the public face of one list of candidates, converting the elections into a referendum on his rule.
And whereas Shiite parties joined a grand coalition in 2005, this time they are competing against one another in heavily Shiite southern provinces. Tribal leaders, meanwhile, are attempting to play the role of kingmaker in the south, as well as in other parts of the country.
Sunni Arabs, many of whom boycotted the 2005 elections, are widely expected to gain political ground around the country this year. In predominantly Sunni provinces, particularly Anbar, west of Baghdad, established religious parties are competing against secular ones, including some created by former insurgents who were thrust into leadership roles after the U.S. military put them on the payroll and enlisted them to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Turning to the issue of violence.
Since McClatchy got in bed with the 'creative' Institute for War & Peace Reporting it's become a real joke and can manage to report from Iraq most days. How bad is it?
Iraq Body Count (which undercounts) reports 34 dead yesterday and somehow McClatchy missed all of the incidents including 18 corpses discovered Khalis. We have avoided IBC because it undercounts but, as I noted this morning, we can't be too picky with so many losing interest in Iraq.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) does manage to note 1 corpse discovered in Samarra . . . yesterday. IBC notes that as well. We may start using them (which would put us one day behind). McClatchy's already become the new Judith Miller so why not note IBC as well?
In other news, two things are coming back to Iraq. First, Abu Ghraib will reopen. Citing KUNA, UPI explains it will now be called Baghdad Central Prison. Oh, that'll wipe everything away! (That was sarcasm.) Meanwhile BBC reports that despite such 'state of the art' accessories as "a missile launcher," Saddam Hussein's yacht is being treated like a Ford Fiesta as no one seems overly impressed and refuses to pony up the thirty million bucks: "Baghdad officials have blamed the global economic slump for their failure to find a buyer."
In the United States, New York Times' Lizette Alvarez reports (via Detroit News), "As the number of jobs across the nation continues to dwindle, more Americans are joining the military, lured by a steady paycheck, benefits and training." It's amazing what a bad economy and a bunch of 'hope' propaganda can do for recruitment -- that and the fact that alleged 'anti-war' groups like United for Peace & Justice only do "Counter Military Recruitment" when Republicans are in the White House. The recruiting news includes the completion of an investigation. Catherine Abbott of the Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs announces, "The U.S. Army concluded a two and a half month investigation into the suicides of four Soldiers assigned to the Houston Recruiting Battalion. . . . The investigation concluded that there was no single cause for these deaths. Relevant factors included the command climate, stress, personal matters, and medical problems. None were diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." The Army plans to offer more "leadership training, suicide prevention/ resiliency training" -- and, yes, that category title alone shows how little the Army comprehends -- and "rcuriter wellness." Linsday Wise (Houston Chronicle) notes, "[Brig Gen Dell] Turner said his investigation found evidence of a poor command climate inside the Houston battalion, which has lost four recruiters to suicide since 2005, including two who hanged themselves within weeks of each other last year. All four had served in Iraq or Afghanistan before being reassigned to recruiting duty, a job considered one of the most stressful in the Army, especially in wartime." Wise also notes:
At least 17 recruiters have killed themselves nationwide since 2001. The deaths come at a time when suicides among all active duty soldiers have hit record highs. In 2007, 115 committed suicide, the highest number since the Army began tracking such statistics in 1980. By October of last year, 117 soldiers had reportedly killed themselves.
US Senator John Cornyn was among those calling for the investigation and Michelle Roberts (AP) reports he is now calling "for a congressional hearing on suicides among Army recruiters" who says the investigation found pressures from superiors: "As you might imagine, corners might have been cut -- and they were -- given the exigency of recruiting for war. The concern is that this is not isolated to a single battalion."
Turning to the media driven frenzy, Howard Kurtz (Washington Post) offers some common sense and sanity, including, "But what's past is prologue. If journalists don't start holding the 44th president accountable -- in the same way the left wanted us to hold George W. Bush accountable -- we will have defaulted on our mission. It will be bad for the country, and bad for Obama." Also worthy of note, Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report) breaks through the fog and offers reality:
Eight years ago, the presidential candidate who was actually defeated at the polls managed to be sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. The election theft was followed by the theft of public assets and blatant law breaking. It is easy to understand why the departure of George W. Bush invokes renditions of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead."
Unfortunately the witch is not dead. The witch is a political system controlled by the dictates of wealthy individuals and big corporations who are all very much alive. They realized before anyone else did that the Republican brand was failing, and a new product line was needed.
Fortunately for them, a master marketer came along in the nick of time and allowed them to stay in the game. One year ago Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses and proved that he could become president. More to the point, he proved that white people would vote for him. Doubt about his chances for success disappeared in the black community and so did any memory of the way that a dedicated mass movement forced change on a nation.
Now Obama is president and there is great joy and excitement throughout most of the country. There is quite literally no way to escape his face or his words. His image is everywhere and casual conversations, church sermons and staff meetings somehow turn into Obama loveathons.
It is easy to feel demoralized and defeated when any mention of dogs inevitably turns into a discussion about his daughters' new puppy. The feelings of defeat are magnified by the non-stop barrage of media, endlessly repeating that a wonderful history is being made, and by the very real emotions that the faithful so readily exhibit.
Now that the inaugural parties are over, it is time to reenergize ourselves and prepare for the fight of our lives. If we do not, we are no better than the new president who cynically tells the easily fooled that they shouldn't "bicker" or "wrangle" over their political rights but instead accept the dictates of their overlords. If there were ever a time for righteous wrangling and bickering, it is now.