Sunday, February 01, 2009

And the war drags on . . .

I walked more than three miles and four polling centers to vote today. I have lived in the same neighborhood for more than 30 years, but my name was not on the list.
With the sound of hovering American helicopters filling the unusual silence on the streets I walked to the polling center nearest my house to vote. First I had to be searched and take off my wristwatch, my box of cigarettes and my mobile telephone because an American patrol was watching the main checkpoint of the polling center.
I checked my name but I could not find it. An employee told me: "You may find it at another center." So I started walking. But the guards wouldn’t let me go straight there because of the security cordons around polling centers. My route was like a sneaky puzzle. The streets were clear of vehicles and children exploited the occasion to amuse themselves by playing football or marbles in the streets, without any notion of the importance of this day.

The above is the opening to Mohammed Hussein's account (at the New York Times' live blog of the elections) of attempting to vote yesterday. He had to go to four polling stations before he could vote and at the fourth station, he didn't know any of the nominees. He points out that his wife's name couldn't be found on any list of voters so she wasn't allowed to vote in the provincial elections. Hatim Hameed tells the paper of experiencing similar problems in Falljua where it took trips to five polling centers "before I found my name. I had to walk for more than an hour."
And, Abu Abdullah al-Jubouri explained, "There is no transportation to bring people to the voting centers. Don’t they think about how the people will get to the places where they have to vote? I'm going to vote by myself because I won't bring my family that far." In today's paper, Stephen Farrell and Alissa J. Rubin report Nasreen Yousif went to three different polling centers in Baghdad before she gave up, "Now I am going home. Maybe there is a fourth school, but it is too far and I can't walk anymore." At the paper's blog, Timothy Williams explains western Baghdad voters were searched three times before they were even allowed to enter the polling center.


Photo above is an M-NF one taken by Sgt Jerry Saslav, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs. The poster of the puppet Nouri al-Maliki in Sadr City. Fourteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces held elections yesterday. No, that was not what the benchmarks called for. After scoffing at benchmarks for most of fall 2006, the White House turned around and proposed the 18 benchmarks by which 'success' could be measured in Iraq. The tune was soon changed, partly in order to sell the 'surge' (sending more troops to Iraq). January 10, 2007, George W. Bush explained in his radio address, "Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country's economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."

Security in all of Iraq's provinces? Close if you rig the system. The oil laws? Ha. $10 billion of its own money? Ha! De-de-Baathification? They passed a law last year that they didn't implement and that had no check on it. And "Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year"? January 2007 that statement was made.

It's January 2009. And all eighteen provinces didn't hold elections yesterday. Two years after Bully Boy promised they'd be held and the measure still hasn't been met.

By every measure, the illegal war is a failure.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4232 and tonight? 4237. Today the US military announced: "A U.S. Soldier died as a result of a non-combat related injury in Kirkuk, Iraq Jan 31. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." Just Foreign Policy's counter estimates the number of Iraqis killed since the start of the illegal war to be 1,307,319 . . . same as last week and the same as the week before and . . . They're not updating it. Iraqi deaths only need to be counted when a Republican is in the White House. Just Foreign Policy doesn't give a damn about Iraqi deaths. You wouldn't go from January 11th to February 1st with the same date on your 'daily counter' if you gave a damn. They used to give a damn but then Barack was headed to the White House and we must not do anything to upset the Christ-child. We must not count the number of Iraqis who die, we must not call for an end to the illegal war, we must just cheer, cheer and cheer as the War Hawk Corporatist does what Republicans wouldn't have the blind support to get away with. On the destruction of American lives and liberties, on the continuation of the empire, there is bi-partisan consensus. And the consensus into the so-called 'anti-war' 'movement' and the so-called 'alternative' media.

That's why you've had the silence in response to Rick Maze's "Levin: Iraq plan has wiggle room" (Army Times):

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said Friday that he believes President Barack Obama's pledge to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months has some "wiggle room."
Meeting with reporters to talk about his committee's agenda for the year, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he thinks Obama could accept something less than a complete withdrawal under two conditions.
First, it would depend on "how much longer" a full withdrawal of combat forces might take, Levin said.
Second, Obama could accept a withdrawal plan that included "big movement early" of combat forces that pulled out at least 80 percent of forces within the 16-month timeline, Levin said, adding: "I think that would be credible."

[. . .]
Levin, however, said he thinks a less-than-total withdrawal may be acceptable.

We noted Maze's report in Friday's snapshot. You know what this is like? Samantha Power telling the BBC at the start of March that Barack's 16-month 'promise' isn't one. And the silence that greeted it. In other words, in four months Tom Hayden may stumble upon it and show up ranting. But when it actually mattered? Cowardly asses stayed silent. As they always do. That's what happens when life makes you a failure and you depend upon others for riches you can't earn. The beggars could scale back their greed and be honest. They could try actually working for a living. Either option doesn't interest them so they just whore themselves out. Repeatedly. Whore a little and they put you in jail, whore a lot and they give you your own Pacifica radio show and a Nation column. Whore a whole lot and you get a CREDO grant.

Meanwhile, like the Bully Boy before him, Bully Boy Barack loves soft coverage and what could be softer than Matt Lauer on Superbowl Sunday? Barack declared, "We are in a position to start putting more responsibility on the Iraqis, and that's good news for not only the troops in the field but also their families, who are carrying an enormous burden." And the US military families burdens are eased by sending more US troops to Iraq? Oh you know Matt Lauer didn't ask that one. The man who's out of his depth interviewing Jennifer Lopez never learned how to interview elected officials which is why Matt Lauer's name never made the short list for Meet The Press moderator. Barack had no hard numbers during the campaign and, now that he's been elected and sworn in, he's still got no hard numbers. He has no plans, just little patter and oh, how, the groupies suck it up. MSNBC notes what Lauer couldn't, "Obama gave no details, but he said his administration would make its intentions on troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan known in coming days." Kick the can further down the road, Barack. It's not like anyone holds you accountable.

We'll return to the topic of the elections but let's continue with the violence -- the violence Just Foreign Policy isn't interested in anymore because life became giggles and wet dreams for Just Foreign Policy with Barack in the White House.

McClatchy's Sahar Issa reports a Baghdad sticky bombing targeting the "Awakening" Council that left Mohammed Salama wounded as well as a person on the street, a Nineveh Province house bombings and Issa drops back to Saturday to note two Kirkuk roadside bombings that resulted in one person being wounded. McClatchy's Laith Hammoudi notes a Saturday tribal fight in Baghdad that resulted in one death and one person injured. Alissa J. Rubin and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) report security forces shot two people in Baghdad who "tried to enter a polling place carrying cameras and recorders".

Returning to the provincial elections, in today's New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin observes, "In the United States, many Americans view the war as already over, even though more than 140,000 American soldiers remain on Iraqi soil." Omar al-Dulaimi offers his take on the illegal war, "The American military presence brought nothing to our streets but destruction and chaos." Stephen Farrell and Rubin note of yesterday, "Driving was banned in most of the country to prevent suuicide bombers from attacking any of the more than 6,000 polling places and security checkpoints, often spaced just yards apart. The tight security, couples with confusion over where voters should cast their ballots, appeared to have reduced turnout in many districts across the country." They estimate Nineveh Province saw 75% turnout of registered voters while Basra saw only 50%. Deborah Haynes (Times of London's Inside Iraq) reports on one get-out-the-vote attempt: texting:

I was being inundated, like everyone else in Baghdad, by mass text messages from hopeful candidates pitching for votes ahead of provincial elections tomorrow.
A confusing array of more than 14,400 candidates from 407 different parties, independent entities and individuals are vying for just 440 seats on 14 provincial councils across the country. In a bid to make sense of the huge choice, the candidates are on lists -- either independent or for a party. The list has a number, which is what I stupidly mistook to be the varying price of my monthly phone bill.
One voter-wooing text (received multiple times) read like this:
"Vote for 302, the list of Prime Minister Maliki who achieved security and restored national sovereignty."
Another one went:
"With your vote we will hold them accountable and build our country. Elect from the list of Mithal Allusi, 292.”A third message (I could go on forever) read:“Vote for a Baghdad with everyone living with freedom and security. Tawafuq 265."

The votes are still being counted but AP notes election commission chair Faraj al-Haidari estimates turnout across the country to be at 51%. al-Haidari is an ass who won't take accountability, "It's not our fault that some people couldn't vote because they are lazy, because they didn't bother to ask where they should vote." If the percentage remains low when all votes are counted, that not only rejects the hype that the elections had captured Iraqi's fascination and that they were wild to vote. The reasons for the low percentage -- if that number holds -- may include not feeling vested in the puppet government or in their occupied country, not trusting the system or voter suppression. Votes can be suppresed, as 2004 voters in Ohio can attest, if you create chaos and frustration. Certainly having people forced to walk from polling station to another repeatedly and requiring they be frisked multiple times before enterting each polling center can be seen as security or as harassment. Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) pins it on reluctance to embrace 'democracy' on the part of Iraqis (how could they embrace what they don't have?) and she notes, "Voter turnout in Iraq's provincial elections Saturday was the lowest in the nation's short history as a new democracy despite a relative calm across the nation. Only about 7.5 million of more than 14 million registered voters went to the polls." It's cute the way the press reported nearly 15 million registered voters when they thought the turnout would be huge and now that it wasn't huge, they stop using "nearly 15 million" to run with "more than 14 million".

Ahmed Rasheed, Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie, Missy Ryan and Katie Nguyen (Reuters) cite "voter registration problems and tight security" as the reasons for the low turnout. They also note that 2005's provincial vote saw 76% of registered voters participating. Ned Parker and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) focus on Kufa:

Haidar Lafta shows his index finger, stained a deep purple after he voted for the Independent Movement of the Free People list, one of the two Sadr-sponsored slates in the election. The movement's poster displays a pair of fists tearing apart a rope binding them.
His friends applaud as Lafta curses the ruling Shiite powers, the ones they believe conspired against Sadr's militia with a military offensive in Basra last spring. After that campaign, the Sadr movement went from a powerful force that many suspected would sweep elections in the Shiite south to one in disarray.Lafta shakes his fist when he talks about Sadr's movement. "They are strong. They know how to talk, to defend the oppressed people," he says.
He disparages Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who ordered the Basra campaign and reaped benefits afterward: "He has done nothing for Kufa."

The Los Angeles Times also covered Mosul (reported on by an unnamed correspondent):

Hisham, an Iraqi Kurd, had watched as his city fell apart. His Kurdish, Christian and Shiite friends fled, but he resolved to stay on. Slowly, he came to resent the Kurdish parties that governed Mosul.
So Hisham voted Saturday in favor of the Arab nationalist Hadba party. He saw the vote as a way to bring the city back to what it was before 2004, when he lived in peace with all his neighbors -- before Islamic militancy and ethnic tensions ravaged Mosul. He did not worry about Hadba's reputation for vitriolic rhetoric against the Kurdish parties. He was just desperate to find a way out of the current morass.
On his walk home from voting, Hisham watched children play soccer in the street and invited friends over for billiards. He didn't hear an explosion Saturday, a welcome change from most days.

Kim Gamel (AP) also reports on Mosul where Iraqi Christians were under attack in the fall and had to flee:

"It's better at this point but we paid a high price for it," said Bassem Bello, the Christian mayor of Tel Kaif, a mixed Sunni Arab-Christian town near Mosul. "We're working very hard to make sure it doesn't happen again."
He declined to say who was behind the attacks, which claimed up to 16 lives by some counts. But he said the outgoing provincial council had failed to protect its people.
"Whenever something like this happens we lose families. They go abroad. This is the agenda. They want the original people of this country to leave," he said. "They have certain aspirations to take over what the Christians have in their areas. Also there are extremist Islamic groups."

Leila Fadel (Baghdad Observer, McClatchy Newspapers) quotes Nineveh Province's Leila Solaiman Mohammed who states, "I voted for the Fraternity of Nineveh (Kurdish slate) because it represents my race and we hope it would help us get our rights as Kurds. We want to live in peace like others." That is one among many Iraqi voices that Fadel quotes.

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Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Pru notes Ken Oldende's "Barack Obama and the order to close Guantanamo" is "superficial" in the beginning but gets better (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

US president Barack Obama has issued a number of executive orders in his first week in office that distance him from his predecessor George Bush – on Guantanamo Bay, stem cell research, reproductive rights and climate change.
But in other respects – such as the war in Afghanistan – he has made clear that it is business as usual for US imperialism.
The biggest change was the announcement of plans to close the US’s prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 245 “enemy combatants” are still being detained without trial.
Obama’s order goes on to announce the closure of CIA detention centres and an end to to the practice of “rendition”.
This went further than most observers were expecting on these issues and is a victory for human rights activists around the world who have been campaigning against Bush’s torture tactics since 2001.
But now Obama has to decide what to do with the remaining detainees. He would like US allies to take many of them, but other governments are not keen to get involved.
Alternatively they could be moved onto US soil. This would put them in the same position as Ali al-Marri. the sole “enemy combatant” already on US soil.
Al-Marri has been held without charge or trial at the Consolidated Naval Brig at Charleston, South Carolina, since 2003. His legal status is still being fought over in US courts.
The US also detains people in other prisons around the world, such as the notorious Bagram airbase in Afghanistan that holds about 600 prisoners.
US officials say Bagram’s inmates are Taliban captured on the battlefield – but they are still being held there indefinitely.
Obama has continued the Bush regime’s policies in Afghanistan in other respects too. He plans to escalate military operations in the country.
During Obama’s first week in office he authorised two missile strikes on Pakistan. These killed 22 people, including women and children.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the biggest issue for Obama’s supporters during the early stages of his campaign. But now Americans say they the issue they are most worried by is the economy and the recession.
Obama’s inauguration speech referred to sacrifices that he says will have to be made.
He specifically referred to the “selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job”.
Now Obama is trying to pass a bill that will pump nearly £600 billion into the US economy to fight the growing recession. This is the biggest spending package since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.
The bill aims to save or create between three and four million jobs through a series of infrastructure projects. These include new roads, bridges, electricity lines and sewage works.
Despite the size of the package, many economic commentators say it won’t be enough to solve the crisis.
The recession has destroyed the credibility of the neoliberal ideology that has dominated Western economic policy for the past 30 years.
But Obama has thus far shown no sign of making the radical break with establishment policies that is needed to help ordinary working people during this crisis.
© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.
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