Monday, January 26, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, January 26, 2009.  Chaos and violence continues, the US military announces multiple deaths, provincial elections loom, Nouri al-Maliki makes laughable statements (redundant or just expected?), and more.
This morning the US military announced: "TIKRIT, Iraq -- Four Coalition Soldiers died Jan. 26, when their aircraft crashed in Northern Iraq. The cause is unclear at this time and does not appear to be by enemy action. An investigation is ongoing. The names of the deceased are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." The announcement brings the total number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4236 with 15 for the month thus far. Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) cited an unnamed Iraqi police source who states the aircraft was a helicopter and they note, "Initial reports from the U.S. military said two aircraft were involved, but later reports said it was only one aircaft that went down in the incident, which occured around 2:15 a.m."  In a later update (1:23 p.m. EST), they note that it was two helicopters.  Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) reminds, "The crash was the first since Nov. 15, when an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter landed with difficulty after hitting wires in the northern city of Mosul.  Two US pilots were killed.  The worst crash of the conflict was in January 2005, when a U.S. Marine CH53E Super Stallion helicopter went down in western Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a Navy sailor."  Sam Dagher (New York Times) adds, "At least 70 American helicopters have gone down since the war started in March 2003, according to military figures.  Of those, 36 were confirmed to have been shot down."  Jordan's Al Bawaba notes the US military refuses to say where the crash took place but it appears to have been outside Kirkuk based on unnamed sources: "One observer indicated that the crash report was very unusual, because if two Blackhawk helicopters were involved as the U.S. Military claims then they would have carried at the least eight crewmembers in both machines, but only four were reported . He suggested several possible explanations, including that the aircraft involved were actually attack helicopters, which carry only two crew each, that only one helicopter had crashed (which makes the claim of a mid-air collision highly unlikely), or that there was a far higher casualty list from the incident, which the Americans were deliberately hiding.Deborah Haynes (Times of London) locates the crash similiary, "An Iraqi police general responsible for Salahuddin province said two small helicopters had collided near the city of Kirkuk, 155 miles north of Baghdad."
Today's announcement follows two over the weekend.  Saturday, the US military announced: " A Multi-National Division -- Center Soldier died of non-combat related causes in southern Iraq today." And [PDF format warning] they announced, "A 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Soldier died as a result of non-combat related injuries Jan. 24." The Seattle Times identified the second death ["A 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Soldier] as "24-year-old Sgt. Kyle J. Harrington" and notes he is survived by Faith, his wife, and by Joshua (their five-year-old son) and Kaylee (their two-year-old daughter).
On Sunday news of other Saturday violence emerged.  Timothy Williams (New York Times) reported on a Saturday raid by US forces in Hawija in which a husband and wife were killed by US forces and their young daughter was wounded. The house raid, Williams explained, required helicopters and was done at two in the morning. For the killing of the wife (Fathiya Ali Ahmed), the official story is she reached for something and, later, a gun was allegedly found under a mattress. After he saw his wife slaughtered, the husband (Dhiya Hussein) went after the US soldiers and was killed. Ahlam Dhia, the eight-year-old daughter, was shot by US soldiers for no official reason cited and she is quoted stating, "They killed my mother and father right in front of me. I was under the blanket. I heard my mom screaming, and I started to cry." Based on descriptions, Williams hypothesized the soldiers were American Special Ops. It is interesting that when Iraq supposedly has control over their country, US forces -- not Iraqi forces or, for that matter, US forces and Iraqi forces -- are conducting house raids. Ned Parker and Saif Hameed (Los Angeles Times) reported, "The chairman of the Hawija Council said the woman's husband, Dhia Hussein, had not been linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq, as the U.S. military claimed" and quote Hussein Ali Salih (the chair) stating, "I personally know Col. Dhia Hussein; he is one of the former army officers and he was trying to return to the new Iraqi army. He has no affiliations with any armed groups." NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (All Things Considered -- link has video and text) reports:

The U.S. military said the operation was conducted with and approved by Iraq's security forces, as stipulated by a security agreement that went into effect at the beginning of the year. But a senior Iraqi government spokesman said there were no Iraqi forces present and is calling for an investigation of the deaths.
"The Americans were on foot," said Hussein Ali, the father of the man who was killed. "They threw percussion hand grenades at the door, then they started shooting. When I got inside the house, the Americans were gone. I found [my son and daughter-in-law] in the bedroom, dead beside each other. They shot my son at close range. His blood was all over the wall."

McClatchy's Leila Fadel (and possible the Institute for War and Peace Reporting?) felt the above information could wait until paragraph eight and spent the first seven pagraphs repeating the US military's version in what can only be characterized as Blind Faith Typing. Were Judith Miller still working for the New York Times and had she filed the exact same report Fadel did, she'd be called out non-stop on through next month for that one report.  Instead, the anger only emerges in Iraq.  Anthony Shadid and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) explained, "In the angry aftermath, 40 cars carrying hundreds of people converged on the family's funeral later in the day, said Fadhil Najm, a neighbor.  He said the mourners shouted, 'Death to America! Death to killers of women!' as they buried the bodies."  The two also point out that the head of the province's police force, General Jamal Tahir Bakir, states "U.S. forces acted on their own in the raid."  China's Xinhau cites an unnamed police source, "The source also said that local security forces were not informed about the raid and that the reasons behind the killings are unclear yet."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that left six injured, a Baquba bicyle bombing that left five people injured (and the bicyclist shot dead by the police), a Mosul car bombing that left six injured and a Mosul roadside bombing that left three wounded. 
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in Mosul.
Iraq Body Count lists 12 dead on Saturday and 14 on Friday.  They don't have a number for Sunday or today yet.  They are an undercount but they're also one of the few still covering Iraq.  For example,  Just Foreign Policy's counter estimates the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war to be 1,307,319.  That's the number they offered last Sunday, and the Sunday before that.  In other words, JFP wants you to believe that no Iraqs have died since January 4th.  Or maybe it's just that counting the Iraqis killed only matters when a Republican is in the White House?
KUNA repots that the Interior Ministry has announced that "5000 servicewomen" have finished training "to work in female inspection posts in state ministires and bodies."
Meanwhile Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) examines the puppet of the occupation Nouri al-Maliki, noting the two attempts by Parliament to oust him: "The anger at Mr. Maliki from the political class is strong enough that he has twice narrowly missed being voted out of office, in December and in late 2007." Those are not the only attempts to get rid of him, just FYI. Rubin goes on to explain that al-Maliki is popular with some Iraqis and, even later, goes on to explain why: Doling out pennies. Hmmm. It's a shame no one ever noticed that al-Maliki was sitting on all that money. It's a shame no one has thought to call for an audit of it.

al-Maliki's creation of his private guards, so similar to Saddam Hussein's actions, are noted as well. The US government backed Saddam and they've backed al-Maliki. Should the Iraqi people not have their way, it will be important to remember who created the puppet in forty years. His private guards are the Baghdad Brigade and the Counterterrorism Task Force which bypass everyone else and report only to him and have no supervision or transparency. A Kurdish MP, Mahmoud Othman, is quoted observing, "The country is being militarized. People think he has overreached."

And for those who can't grasp why the US should have already left (should have never gone but is continuing to do damage), note this section:

American military commanders privately defend Mr. Maliki, saying that he has had to exert control over security forces and that having forces loyal to him reduces the influence of Shiite and Kurdish militias that function within the security ministries.

For those not aware, the US military -- or any military -- is not the person to judge what's best for democracy or democracy building. Democracy building is not a task a military should ever take on because it is beyond its scope and ability. The judgments being made by the US commanders? You damn well better believe they impact orders on down the chain and it's putting the US military into the position Joe Biden warned against in April, choosing sides in a civil war. He also declared, in that Senate hearing, "Just understand my frustration, we want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist."

That paragraph in Rubin's article should alarm but it will just sail over most heads because there is so little interest in Iraq and there is such a meager knowledge base on what a military can and can't do and what democracy actually is.

Biden warned that the US military was being put in the position of propping up one set of thugs. For those who doubt that's taking place, from Rubin's article:

Other parties accuse these military forces [al-Maliki's two private guards] of detaining their members for political reasons. Ammar Wajih, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party's political leadership, said the senior Sunni member of the provincial council in Diyala, Hussain al-Zubaidi, had been detained since November.

Provincial elections are scheduled to be held in fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces on January 31st, five days from now. Rubin's reporting on how al-Maliki's tossing the pennies around in various areas in the hopes of increase support for his political party, Dawa. Over the weekend, Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) examined Al Anbar Province where various tribal leaders claim democracy has taken hold and where Dr. Sabah al-Ani replies, "If you believe in a stone, you can says it's God.  We wanted technocrats and we were left with the tribes."  Kimi Yoshino (Los Angeles Times) writes of a non-scientific poll the paper did (with a sample size of  a little more than tweny) where the responses indicated "security takes a back seat to basic services, the economy and culture".  She notes 14,8 million Iraqis have registered to vote.  Monte Morin (LAT's Babylon & Beyond) explains that the weight of all the eleciton kits is 607 tons, while the ballots are 559 tons and the polling screens are 180 tons.  The paper's Tina Susman examined some of the campaign materials and noted "In a country where few candidates have the means to produce glossy election literature, most simply splash letters across white sheets or poster paper and drape the signs between trees or signposts . . . Others use photographs or potraits of themselves . . ."  Susman offers photos of various candidates including Nouri al-Maliki who actually is not running for a provincial council seat but is, as Rubin and others have noted, attempting to make this week's elections all about himself.   AFP reports that Sunday found Nouri and KRG president Massoud Barzani trading swipes: "The two have been at odds over Maliki's plans to ammend the constitution to clear the way for a stronger central government in Baghdad at the expense of the powers of Barzani's administration based in the northern city of Erbil."   Waleed Ibrahim and Michael Christie (Reuters) report that puppet of the occupation, Nouri al-Maliki, declared that US [combat only] forces will be pulled quickly. They report he made this announcement to "a crowd of supporters in the southern Iraqi city of Babel during a campaign rally ahead of Jan. 31 provincial elecitons" -- translation, a campaign promise by al-Maliki -- eager to pump up the number of seats held by his Dawa Party. And of course, if Barack had decided on that, he would let Nouri break the news, right?  No need to inform the Pentagon or Joint Chiefs first.  Just tell Nouri and let him tell the world. 
Friday on PBS' Washington Week, Iraq was briefly discussed.  As Ava and I noted, "ABC News Martha Raddatz explained to Gwen ('I didn't know') Ifill how Barack claimed he would 'meet with the Joint Chiefs and I think they were a little confused at the White House that that's not really who he would meet with right away, the Joint Chiefs, to talk about military advice. . . . That's not who he would meet with. He would meet with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He'd meet with his NSC advisor'."  Radditz also noted she'd just returned from another trip to the Middle East but this time it did not include Iraq.  (Remember ABC News has entered into an agreement with the BBC to air the BBC's Iraq reports.)  This exchange was the key moment on Iraq:
Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws -- 

Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq. 

Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.

That was the show's finest movement and, alone, made up for so much of the gas baggery Gwen usually dumbs down America with. More like that and you might have a show that actually informs. Pete Williams also deserves notice for telling the reality about Barack 'closing' of Guantanamo. It should be noted that Professor Patti objected to Barack's plan for Guantanamo as well, she and Bill Moyers just didn't feel they owed it to PBS viewers to explain what Barack was proposing.  Gordon Lubold (Christian Science Monitor) reports the US "military has already been quietly moving materiel out of Iraq over the past 18 to 24 months, said a military official who requested anonymity" but it's the same Lubold who can't grasp the so-called SOFA so factor that in.  He also wrongly estimates that as many as US troops could remain in Iraq after 'withdrawal.'  (70,000 is the number the administration tosses around.)  Barack's 'withdrawal' is a lot like his 'closing' Guantanamo. As Heart (Women's Space) observes, "Beacuse that's the sense I get reading what Obama has said -- that he wants to clean up our reputation quick, hoping everyone forgets the atrocities of the Bush Administration, so we can continue to fight a Democratic Administration version of the 'war on terror,' which seems to bear a striking resemblance to the one the Bush administration has been engaged in, to our national shame, for the last eight years."  Mickey Z weighs in (at Dissident Voice):
So, the Pope of Hope announced his (purported) objective of closing the military detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba ("Gitmo") within one year and we're expected to herald this announcement as a drastic break from the past. But -- as some of the regulars on my blog instantly declared -- if President Obama were serious about hope and change, he'd close the prison tomorrow, apologize to the detainees, and offer them financial reparations. That could be promptly followed up with the immediate indictment of all government officials (including those in Obama's administration) responsible for supporting torture, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, extrajudicial punishment, etc. And why not toss in the immediate closing of the US military base at Guantánamo Bay and the return of that land to Cuba? That, I submit, would be a minuscule first step upon which we could build.
Waiting a year to close a single prison is nothing to celebrate. Transferring those illegally detained humans is not change anyone can believe in. Public promises about not torturing have been heard before and even if we could trust such dubious assurances, why are we so goddamned appreciative when a US president merely declares his theoretical intention to think about adhering to fundamental international law?
On Thursday, President Barack Obama issued executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in a year's time, requiring that Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military personnel follow the Army Field Manual's prohibitions on torture, and closing secret CIA prisons overseas.  
While the media is portraying these orders as a repudiation of the detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration, they actually change little. They essentially represent a public relations effort to refurbish the image of the United States abroad after years of torture and extralegal detentions and shield high-ranking American officials from potential criminal prosecution.    
In cowardly fashion, Obama staged his signing of the orders in a manner aimed at placating the political right and defenders of Guantanamo and torture and underscoring his intention to continue the Bush administration's "war on terror." He was flanked by 16 retired generals and admirals who have pushed for the closure of the prison camp in Cuba on the grounds that it impedes the prosecution of the global "war" and reiterated in his own remarks his determination to continue the basic political framework of the Bush administration's foreign policy.
The continuation of the ideological pretext for wars of aggression and attacks on democratic rights ensures that the police state infrastructure erected under the Bush administration will remain intact. This is further reinforced by Obama's assurances that his administration will not investigate or prosecute those officials -- including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales and others -- who were responsible for the policies of torture and illegal detention.