Sunday, February 08, 2009

And the war drags on . . .

Trenton Daniel and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report that a public trial has been scheduled for Iraqi journalist Muntathar al Zaidi who threw two shoes at George W. Bush on December 14th. The journalists note, " Zaidi was poulled to ground by another journalist and then pummeled into submission by bodyguards for Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki." Australia Network News states, "A judicial official has announced that Muntazer al-Zaidi will face the charge of assaulting a foreign leader and will appear at the Central Criminal Court." Ahmed Rasheed, Peter Graff and Louise Ireland (Reuters) add that an effort to have the charges reduced was lost on appeal according to Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, spokesperson for the Iraqi Judiciary Council and, as a result, if convicted, Muntather could be sentenced to as many as fifteen years. Bush was hit by neither shoe. That's the 'freedom' Iraq is under.

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 4237 and tonight? 4239. Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died from a non-combat related incident Feb. 8. The Soldier’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation."
Just Foreign Policy's counter finally moves up and the current number is 1,311,696.

In some of the weekend's reported violence . . .

Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 2 lives and left eleven people injured, another Baghdad roadside bombing that injured two people, a third Baghdad roadside bombing that left five injured and a Mosul roadside bombing that wounded one person. Saturday McClatchy reported a Baghdad roadside bombing left two police officers wounded, two Diayala Province roadside bombings which claimed the lives of 1 Iraqi soldier and 1 Iraqi police officer, a Mosul grenade attack that wounded a police officer and, dropping back to Friday, a roadside bomb targeting Sheik Balasim Mohammed Yihya al Timimi "between Baladroz and Kanan towns" that left the sheik injured.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 people shot dead in Sinjar. Saturday McClatchy reported Iraqi police shot dead 3 people who were 'suspects' and a home invasion outside Baquba in which attorney Kanan Majeed was shot dead. Reuters noted 2 people shot dead in Tal Afar on Friday.


McClatchy noted Saturday 1 corpse discovered outside of Mosul.

That was far from the only violence and far from the only violence reported. For example, Reuters reported Saturday, "Gunmen kidnapped Talib al-Masoudi, who ran in Jan. 31 provincial elections as a candidate from the Shi'ite Fadhila party, from the Husseiniya neighbourhood in Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, police said." Oh those wonderful, glorious and 'democratic' elections. Whose results are still not official. Apparently counting ballots isn't the difficult thing, it's rigging the results that's creating the hold up.

Meanwhile Moqtada al-Sadr apparently didn't learn the only real lesson of the elections: Threaten violence to get your way the tallies. Which is why AP explains al-Sadr is appealing the results of the elections: "The allegations are among a chorus of questions raised by Shiite religious parties and Sunnis about the outcome of provincial elections, in which allies of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won a sweeping victory." Tahir al-Kinani is quoted citing two sets of number: one from al-Sadr's observers in the provinces and the other from Iraq's laughable and discredited "electoral commission."

"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." That's the 'electoral commission''s chief speaking. And al-Sadr should have taken a lesson from that. To widely documented problems that is Faraj al-Hadiari's response. To the thugs of Anbar's allegations that couldn't be proven and the thugs threats? al-Hadiari leaps into action and 'massages' the results. Because heaven forbid thugs aren't pleased with the results. Heaven forbid that while giving lip service to democracy, no one actually expects in Iraq.

Democracy? That would require checks and balances. For that to work, you'd have to have a strong, independent judiciary in Iraq (yes, we are all laughing) and a strong legislative branch able to check al-Maliki's never ending power grab. Strong legislative branch? The Parliament has been without a speaker since December 23rd when they ousted Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. 48 days later, who is the Parliament's speaker? Still no one. AFP reports there "are five candidates" but that Parliament remains "deadlocked."

Before get to the other governmental news out of Iraq, we need to remember what's taken place recently. On Jan 22nd, AP reported that Bayan Jabr has told Iraqis that the drop in the price of oil means "hard days to come" and that they should be buying gold or putting money in the bank. Yes, that was hilarious advice. And indicated how out of touch the exile government was with the inhabitants of Iraq who have no option of 'summering' elsewhere. From the Janaury 7th snapshot:

At that time it was expected/estimated by the GAO that Iraq's oil revenues for 2008 would be somewhere between $73 billion and $86 billion (the oil prices dropped significantly after that hearing). Mariam Karouny (Reuters) reported Monday that "Iraq earned about $60 billion from average crude oil sales of 1.85 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2008, a top Iraqi oil official said on Monday." Qatar's Gulf Times gives the figure as $60.9 billion and notes this is a 49% increase from the oil revenues the country brought in for 2007.

The government had to make 'choices' and what got cut? Nawal Al Samarrai announced last week that she was resigning as Iraq's Minister of Women's Affairs noting that it was a for-show position that was drastically underfunded. AFP reports today that she has revealed "her budget was slashed from $7,500 (BD2,8282) to $1,500 (BD566) per month as part of this year's government spending cuts due to plunging oil prices." We'll get back to the reality of what the puppet government spends money on but first let's note that a country with over 25 million people (CIA estimate) and more females than males -- especially among the adult population -- really should be ashamed for spending only $7,500 -- forget for cutting it to $1,500. $7500 was never going to be enough for a monthly budget. The US military had nearly 100,000 "Awakenings" on the payroll (a huge number still remain on the payroll) and paid $300 a month. That was $300,000 a month being paid to thugs so they wouldn't attack the US military -- the infamous fork-over-your-lunch-money-in-the-playground 'strategy.' In other words, 35 Awakening members a month were making the same amount of money as the entire monthly budget for the Ministry of Women's Affairs. 35 men. That number is outrageous and offensive. If you've missed it, the KRG continues to highlight -- sometimes slyly, sometimes outright -- how their region at least makes a show (they may do more than that, but at least makes a show) out of having women involved in the government and in governmental function via their press releases. Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, their State Dept, may be the only ministry currently functioning and yet they earn no praise when time and again their appointments to other countries, the people they choose over and over to represent Iraq, are males. And when it's time to note a meeting with a woman from another country, they generally not only bill her as "Mrs." even if she bills herself as "Ms.," they also tend to spell her name wrong. There's a huge level of disrespect being shown towards women and other countries could address that indirectly -- it would be great if they did so directly, but they could do it indirectly -- by ensuring that women from their country are part of the diplomatic missions.

Let's be really clear that al-Maliki and his other religious freakazoids who think women have no rights -- and that's what al-Maliki thinks -- get away with their nonsense because they're not called on it. Bremer, Garner, go down the list. No one thought women were important enough to fight for. Since the start of the illegal war, when women achieved anything in Iraq, it was because Iraqi women took to the streets. They have regularly been undercut by foreign governments and by NGOs. Undercut? Try attacked by.

When every fall you know there will be a cholera outbreak because NO money is being spent to improve the water and sanitation systems, you know what the problem is. So shame on any NGO who attempts to attack women and blame the yearly cholera outbreak on them. That is exactly what happened in a Baghdad press conference last September. People like Dr. Naeema al-Gasseer are not helping anyone and they are a public menace to the women in Iraq. How dare she blame Iraqi women. How dare she scapegoat them.

Which country is going to step up to the plate and stop babying Iraq and stop assuming that women's rights are 'secondary issues' and that other issues can be 'fixed' and 'addressed' and that after all of that takes place, then they'll take up "the women's issue." In which country in the world has that ever happened? In which country have we ever seen a government declare, "We've worked on everything else. So now we can devote time and attention to 'the women's issue'."? It's never happened. Women have to demand their rights.

And the Iraqi women have. When everyone else has frequently been scared to take to the streets and march for their rights (post-invasion), Iraqi women have always marched. And they are undercut and betrayed by the international system that marks down their rights and treats them as if they are a side-oder and the rights of men are the main dish to be served immediately.

It is past time to see Iraqi women supported by the US, by England, by all the countries who just knew the 'right' thing to do was to start an illegal war. Just like they knew the 'right' thing to do was to take a secular nation and put religious thugs in charge. That decision was made because it was 'easiest' for the US. It wasn't 'easy' for Iraq. And that's the point regarding women's rights. They aren't add-ons, they aren't perks. If the society doesn't value the rights of all, the society's not a democracy.

Iraqi women would greatly benefit from other government's utilizing such indirect actions as ensuring that Iraq's (male) officials grasped that they would be dealing with women. British women, French women, Australian women, American women. And making sure women were present in the photo ops. al-Maliki's fundamentalist government is an attack on women. Something as simple as making the diplomatic envoy going to Iraq next week or next month a woman does send a message and, much more importantly, the message isn't to the thugs, it goes over them to the Iraqi people. They see it and they recognize it because Iraq, before the start of the illegal war, actually did have a government that recognized women's rights. Not to the degree that was in their Constitution, no. In practice, it wasn't at that level. But it was recognized. The US has 'succeeded' in turning Iraq into the Taliban's Afghanistan. The idea that they can now pretend that women's rights are a side-order and they can address it or not is ridiculous. The US government is directly responsible for the damage and destruction Iraqi women live with.

Remember the issue of money was not being ignored, we were just setting it aside for a moment. In 'good' times, al-Maliki thought $7,500 was more than enough for a ministry (dealing with women) to have as a monthly budget. Now he's slashed it to $1,500. But not everything gets slashed. And not everything gets underfunded. Dropping back to the December 11th snapshot:

October 31st, AP reported the puppet government in Baghdad's latest boo-hoo: Oil prices had dropped and their budget for 2009 had to be cut by $13 billion. The Guardian of London (via Iraq Directory) was writing that there was talk of raising production due to the drop from the expected $80 billion 2009 budget to the $67 billion budget. In 2008, they couldn't meet their spending targets and sat on a ton of money while infrastructure remained unrepaired and Iraqis suffered without electricity and potable water. This week they're on a spending spree. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency made several announcements yesterday [all links of announcements take you to PDF format]. DSCA announced: "On Dec. 9, the Dfense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of 36 AT-6B Texan II Aircraft as well as associated support. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $520 million." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of 400 M1126 STRYKER Infantry Carrier Vehicles as well as associated equipment. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.11 billion." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of 20 T-6A Texan aircraft, 20 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $210 million." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of (20) 30-35 meter Coastal Patrol Boats and (3) 55-60 meter Offshore Support Vessels as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.010 billion." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks modified and upgraded to the M1A1M Abrams configuration, 8 M88A2 Tank Recovery Vehicles, 64 M1151A1B1 Armored High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV), 92 M1152 Shelter Carriers, 12 M577A2 Command Post Carriers, 16 M548A1 Tracked Logistics Behicles, 8 M113A2 Armored Ambulances, and 420 AN/VRC-92 Vehicular Receiver Transmitters as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised could be as high as $2.160 billion." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of 26 Bell Armed 407 Helicopters, 26 Rolls Royce 250-C-30 Engines, 26 M280 2.75-inch Launchers, 26 XM296 .50 Cal. Machine Guns with 500 Round Ammunition Box, 26 M299 HELLFIRE Guided Missile Launchers as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $366 million." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of (80,000) M16A4 5.56MM Rifles, (25,000) M4 5.56MM Carbines, (2,550) M203 40MM Grenade Launchers as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $148 million." And they announced: "On Dec. 9, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of (64) Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelters (DRASH), (1,500) 50 watt Very High Frequency (VHF) Base Station Radios, (6,000) VHF Tactical Handheld Radios, (100) VHF Fixed Retransmitters, (200) VHF Vehicular Radios, (30) VHF Maritime 50 watt Base Stations, (150) 150 watt High Frequency (HF) Base Station Radio Systems, (150) 20 watt HF Vehicular Radios, (30) 20 watt HF Manpack Radios, (50) 50 watt Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency (VHF/UHF) Ground to Air Radio Systems, (50) 150 watt VHF/UHF Ground to Air Radio Systems, (50) 5 watt Multiband Handheld Radio Systems as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $485 Million." That is over six billion dollars being committed "if all options are exercised" -- which is a little over 10% of their entire budget for 2009. There's always money to spend when it comes to weapons. And human life is always done on the cheap.

New content at Third:

Truest statement of the week
Truest statement of the week II
A note to our readers
Editorial: Barack backs off Iraq, the Cult showers him with love
TV: Three hours worth watching
NYT goes tabloid
US war resisters Andre Shepherd and Cliff Cornell
What Iraqi elections taught the world
Music roundtable
Michael Phelps Adult Swim
And one little piggie went wah-wah all the way home

Brandon notes Thomas E. Ricks' "The Dissenter Who Changed the War" (Washington Post) on Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq:

Sent back to Iraq in 2006 as second in command of U.S. forces, under orders to begin the withdrawal of American troops and shift fighting responsibilities to the Iraqis, Odierno found a situation that he recalled as "fairly desperate, frankly."
So that fall, he became the lone senior officer in the active-duty military to advocate a buildup of American troops in Iraq, a strategy rejected by the full chain of command above him, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the top commander in Iraq and Odierno's immediate superior.
Communicating almost daily by phone with retired Gen. Jack Keane, an influential former Army vice chief of staff and his most important ally in Washington, Odierno launched a guerrilla campaign for a change in direction in Iraq, conducting his own strategic review and bypassing his superiors to talk through Keane to White House staff members and key figures in the military. It would prove one of the most audacious moves of the Iraq war, and one that eventually reversed almost every tenet of U.S. strategy.

Kat's "Kat's Korner: Tracy Chapman's truly amazing Our Bright Future" went up earlier today and her "Kat's Korner: Springsteen's serving up a dud" went up Saturday. And they're wonderful. Isaiah had planned to take the weekend off ("off" here, he did illustrations for today's El Spirito) but he's had a last minute idea so his latest comic will go up after this. For anyone wondering, there was no news article in today's New York Times. Pru notes this from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

Obama’s economic plan won’t fix the crisis
Debates about protectionist policies miss the real problems of a deep recession, writes Sadie Robinson
Barack Obama’s plan to save the US economy has been caught up in a growing panic among world leaders over protectionism.
The $819 billion scheme was passed in the House of Representatives last week and will be debated in the Senate this week.
The key elements of the plan are widespread tax cuts and funding for infrastructure projects – which Obama claims will create millions of jobs and stimulate economic growth.
The plan also includes a clause that would require companies engaged in the infrastructure projects to use US steel and iron rather than import them – the so-called “Buy American” clause.
It is this that has led to a debate over protectionism.
Union leaders in the US have backed the Buy American clause. Leo Gerard, the international president of the United Steelworkers union, says that workers have to be “economic patriots” in response to the recession.
But neither Obama’s plan nor the clause address the fundamental causes of the crisis – declining profitability and overproduction.
The constant drive for profit lies behind the housing and debt bubbles that were allowed to build up. It also lies behind the increase in speculation and trading in debt that triggered the credit crunch. This has now developed into a full-blown recession.
Governments have responded with various bailouts. All have failed and the recession has deepened.
According to the Federal Reserve, the US government has allocated a whopping $7.8 trillion in various bailouts and stimulus packages since December 2007 – around $3.3 trillion of which has already been spent.
This does not include Obama’s latest scheme.
But even if banks do increase their lending – which is not guaranteed – this will not solve the problem, as businesses will only invest if they are confident they can make profits.
What’s more, the US cannot insulate itself from the global economy. Protecting some jobs in the US steel industry can have a negative impact on industry in other countries, which then impacts back on the US.
The growing recession in China, for example, has meant that the Chinese government is becoming more dependent on exports and is limiting imports to try to protect its own economy.
This has provoked fear in the US ruling class. Obama’s treasury secretary Timothy Geithner has accused China of manipulating its currency, keeping it low to encourage exports.
Protectionist measures have been used in the past to try to save jobs.
They failed. The British government tried to limit imports in 1931, especially in industries such as coal, iron, steel, shipbuilding and textiles.
In 1929 there were around 2.3 million workers employed in these industries. After eight years of protectionist policies this had fallen to 1.8 million.
The rate of unemployment in these industries was double the average for the country.
The key factor behind workers losing their jobs was not how many imports were allowed into the country but the fact that the system was in recession.
The steel industry in the US today is in trouble because there is less demand for steel.
There are fewer cars being produced because the market for them has dried up. The problem is not steel imports – it is the recession.
At the same time as Obama introduces the latest bailout, his government is looking at how to use the second half of the $750 billion bailout that was passed late last year. Part of this will try to tackle the problem of bad debts in the financial system.
Geithner has said he is considering creating a “bad bank” to buy up these toxic assets, which some have estimated could cost over $1 trillion.
Again, there is no guarantee that this would have an impact on lending. And it would mean the US government taking on these debts – raising questions of how they will be paid for.
Obama has brought in several positive measures in his short time in office. He has signed three executive orders that give workers and trade unions in federal government more power.
And his Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act makes it easier for workers to challenge pay discrimination.
These are all changes that should be welcomed.
But the question is – are any of them a solution to the crisis?
Unfortunately for the millions of Americans who are bearing the brunt of the recession, they are not.
© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.
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ahmed rasheed
mcclatchy newspapers

trenton daniel
thomas e. ricks
the washington post