Thursday, February 5, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the election results are not final but the press acts as if they are (and many seem to believe al-Maliki was a candidate), a war critic passes away, actions begin in DC tomorrow and more.
Starting with an action that begins tomrrow and runs through Monday in the US. Military Families Speak Out explains:
Come to Washington February 6-9 to demand "The Change WE Need"
President Elect Obama opposed the war in Iraq before it started, calling it a "dumb war." But he and his advisors have also said that they plan to spread the return of combat troops from that "dumb war" out over sixteen months and to keep tens of thousands of other troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely.
So from February 6-9, MFSO will be traveling to Washington to bring the new President and new Congress the message that it is long past time to bring all our troops home from Iraq. The four days of events will include:
* A teach-in featuring the voices of military families, veterans, and Iraqis, explaining the need for an immediate and complete end to the war in Iraq -- and the human impacts of continuing the occupation. Friday, February 6 from Noon - 3:00 p.m. at Mott House, 122 Maryland Avenue.
* A solemn procession from Arlington National Cemetary to the White House beginning at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 7. Meet at the front gate of the cemetery right outside the exit of the Arlington Metro stop. Please arrive early.
* A "Meet and Greet" and Legislative Briefing from 3:00 - 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 8 at the Mariott Metro Center.
* Lobbying members of Congress to end the war in Iraq. Meet in the cafeteria of the Rayburn House Office Building at 9:00 a.m. Monday, February 9.
Friday from noon to three p.m. will offer the teach-in at the Mott House (122 Maryland Ave, NE Washington, DC). Among those scheduled to participate are Joyce and Kevin Lucey, Elaine Johnson, Tim Kahlor, Stacy Bannerman, American Friends Service Committee Raed Jarrar, IPS' Phyllis Bennis, Iraq Veterans Against the War's Kris Goldsmith and Ryan Deckard and Veterans for Peace's Mike Marceau. (An aspect of the previous sentence will be noted in tonight's entry. If you have a question about it, wait until tonight's entry.)
Deborah Haynes and Wail al-Obaidi (Times of London) observe, "Preliminary results, issued today, indicate a drastic shift in the political map nationwide, with Sunni Arabs also securing a better representation after boycotting the last polls four years ago in protest at the US-led occupation. Final results are not due out for several weeks, but should show little change with 90 per cent of the ballots already counted." Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) offers these impressions: "Preliminary results from the Baghdad provincial council election have begun to filter out into the Iraqi press. The lead story will probably be that Maliki's Rule of Law list won more than half the seats. But the more important story may be that all of the Sunni lists combined evidently only won four or five seats between them. That, combined with the fiasco in Anbar, could put Sunni frustration firmly back into the center of Iraqi politics – risking alienation from politics, intensified intra-Sunni competition, and perhaps even a return of the insurgency." UPI notes that 'secular' Nouri al-Maliki spent time in Najaf today . . . briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on the results. Mark Kukis (Time magazine) quotes Ayad Allawi (head of the Iraqi National Accord, CIA asset and one time prime minister of Iraq) whose party did well in the elections stating he wouldn't want to be prime minister again "in a sectarian regim. I respect religion. But religion needs to be de-politicized." Please note, these are not final results. Lebanon's Daily Star stresses, "The Iraqi regional elections held on Saturday are not expected to deliver a final result for a few weeks". UPI also points out, "Though Maliki won big in Basra and Baghdad, the post-election political landscape suggests several parties may need to form coalitions in the provincial councils." al-Maliki was NOT a candidate. RTT gets the wording right, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and its allies have dominated in the crucial provincial council elections, finishing first in nine out of the fourteen provinces in which elections were held, although reports suggested the bloc would still need to form coalitions in order to govern." Aamer Madhani (USA Today) also grasps the difference between candidates and someone not even running and notes, "But throughout the country, voting went along sectarian lines, with predominantly Shiite provinces backing Shiite parties and Sunni-majority provinces choosing Sunni parties vying for 440 local government seats in 14 of the country's 18 provinces." Jane Aarraf (Christian Science Monitor) states 90% of the vote was counted (she also hails al-Maliki for his 'win' -- so take that into account as well) and, "In Iraq's north the most dramatic results installed a new Sunni Arab party, al-Hadba, to take charge of the provincial council after winning almost 50 percent. The council had previously been overwhelmingly dominated by Kurds, who have voewed not to work with the leader of al-Hadba, who is seen as anti-Kurdish." Calling this al-Maliki's 'win' is a bit like congratulating George W. Bush on Kirsten Haglund's win last year. The Kurdish Regional Government's President Masoud Barzani issued a statement Tuesday evening, "We respect the will of the people of Iraq. We hope that this was an emphatic message from Kurds, Arabs, Turkomens, Chaldaens, Assyrians, Muslims, Christians and Yezidis of the Kurdish areas to voice what they really want. . . . I hope and I call on the Iraqi parliament, the federal Iraqi government, the United Nations, the United States, and all concerned parties to respect the will of the people of these areas and to stop avoiding the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution." Mohammed A. Salih (IPS) explained Article 140 as follows, "Article 140 sketches a three-step plan to remove traces of the Arabisation policy of the regime of former president Saddam Hussein. The constitution now provides for a census followed by a referendum on the facte of the province, after normalising the situation." This is about whether or not oil-rich Kirkuk remains a part of the central government out of Baghdad or becomes part of the KRG. Before the vote -- which would be residents of Kirkuk voting -- takes place, Article 140 outlines a length of measures that would allow Kurds to return. Reality is that the KRG has done forced 'returns' to Kirkuk, expelling Kurds from the KRG and forcing them to live in Kirkuk. Has this achieved de-Arabization? Who knows? And that would also depend upon who judges it.
Turning to Anbar Province. As noted yesterday, Sheik Ahmed Buzaigh abu Risha has been threatening violence over the possibility that the Iraqi Islamic Party might have done better in the polls than his own party. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) observes, "In Anbar province, in western Iraq, tension between rival Sunni parties have been running high after leaders of the Awakening Council groups, or Sahwa militant groups who fought al-Qaida militants in their areas, accused the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, of committing fraud to win majority of the 29-seat provincial council. IIP vehemently denied the accusation." Sam Dagher (New York Times) reports "al-Maliki sent a deputy, Rafie al-Issawi, a Sunni who is an Anbar native" to speak with Shik Risha and that the meeting was also attended by the Iraqi military. He threatens violence -- he continues to threaten violence -- and he gets his way. All the people who peacefully demonstrated against not being permitted to vote? They're ignored. But it's rush down to make nice with Sheik Risha when, if it was anyone else, the US military would be rushing down to arrest him. And al-Maliki can't stand Risha. The fact that the sheik is being catered to indicates just how little control al-Maliki still has.
Dahger speaks with another tribe leader from the area, Sheik Ali al-Hatem, who has (like many in Anbar) frequently been in conflict with Sheik Risha (al-Hatem has also had issues with the Iraqi Islamic Party)who notes that each tribe put up their own candidates so you had slates competing against each other as well as competing against IIP. He states that Risha is "sowing rifts among the tribes" and that the violence could become "intratribal": "Ahmed is playing with fire. We will confront him if he acts this way and divides the tribes." al-Hatem doesn't call on al-Maliki to reign in Risha, he calls on the US military to do so. (If that happens, it may take place during today's meet-up in Anbar.) Sudarsan Raghavan (Washington Post) reports the US Marines are back in "Ramadi in observation roles, patrolling areas from which they had largely withdrawn." Again, Risha stamps his feet and threatens violence and gets his way. All the people turned away from the polls and refused the right to vote? All Faraj al-Haidari has to offer them is this 'pithy' little comment, "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." Again, they should have ditched the peaceful protest and run around threatening violence -- that's the only way al-Haidari would have listened. Sheik Risha works the commission the way he wants to.
And you need to grasp how ludicrous the claims of Risha, et al are. Now ludicrous doesn't mean that they are false. I believe they are but I don't know that. But reporters do know and did report on the vast number of Iraqis in Baghdad, for example, being refused the right to vote. But that's not being investigated. Risha's drama leads to an investigation. Risha is unhappy that his slate of candidates appear (no vote counts are final yet) to have done poorly. He insists that his candidates should have done better and that voter fraud is responsible for them not doing better. Risha says the ballot boxes were stuffed. Don't worry about whether he's right about that or wrong for a second. Just grasp that is the basis of his assertions. Now note this from Monte Morin and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times): "Tribal sheiks and their followers here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, and in Fallouja charge that their political rivals gained control of local election offices and stuffed ballot boxes the day after the elections. Election officials reported that 40% of eligible Anbar voters cast ballots, but tribal candidates say the turnout was half that and that the additional votes are false." Less than 40% voted -- according to the people asserting voter fraud, only 20% of registered voters in Anbar bothered to vote. Do you not see the conflict in the two positions? "We are popular and we should have won!" vs. "They cheated because really only 20% of the registered voters voted!" If you're argument is that 80% of registered voters stayed home, you can't make the claim that you're popular with voters at the same time. The two positions are in conflict.
Today the commission that did nothing for the Iraqis who peacefully called for their rights appears to have fixed the Anbar results. Back to Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy):
The official results in Anbar are sharply different from the reports of the last few days. The IHEC tally gave the victory to Saleh al-Mutlak's bloc, followed by Abu Risha's Awakenings Bloc, followed by the Islamic Party in third place. This is a surprise. The behavior of the Islamic Party and the Awakenings bloc over the last few days strongly suggests that they had the same information about the preliminary results-- that the Islamic Party had won. This "adjustment" -- if that's what happened -- for now appears to have defused the crisis over the alleged electoral fraud by the Islamic Party and the threats of violence by the Awakenings leaders by denying victory to either of the two main rivals (Abu Risha says that he's happy with the result). This resolution is very, shall we say, convenient... and, perhaps, a clever solution to the escalating confrontation. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this soon.. the Islamic Party's website is currently silent on this sudden change in their electoral fortunes. Where's Nate Silver to analyze the exit poll data when you need him?
What do the elections mean? The Financial Times of London speaks with Ahmed Jihad of Salahaddin Province who explains what he's expecting, "Electricity, water and employment, these are the three main things. We need a leader who is strong but fair at the same time. . . . We tried talking to the council about getting electricity but we can't afford the 15m diner [$13,000 US] for a connection because there are no employment opportunities here." Whether that will happen or not no one knows.
Peter Graff, Waleed Ibrahim, Mohammed Abbas, Michael Christie and Charles Dick (Reuters) report "the bloodiest attck in Iraq in weeks," with at least 15 dead in Diyala Province from a suicide bomber. No word on the gender of the bomber, so it's most likely a male. Germany's Deutsche Welle explains, "The suicide bomber blew himself up in a popular restaurant in the Kurdish town of in Khanaqin on the border with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region." BBC says the wounded numbers at least fifteen and quotes eye witness Yahya Ibrahim stating, "I was at the back of the restaurant when suddenly the explosion happened at the entrance. Everything around was destroyed." Xiong Tong (Xinhua) quotes an unidentified police member stating, "A suicide bomber blew up his explosive vest inside Dilshad Restaurant in the town of Khanaqin, klling 15 people and wounding 15 others."
And in the latest attack on the press in Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers' Sahar Issa reports, "Reporter Salam Arab Doski, was killed by a policeman during a fight, on his doorstep in Wadi Sakhr neighbourhood, western Mosul at 4 p.m. Thursday. Police said it was a personal issue."
Let's stay with the press as the topic for another second to note that Samad Ali is doing a "weekday roundup of news from around the Middle East" at Wall St. Journal's Baghdad Life blog. Now back to the day's violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing target Nihad al Juburi (Dept Eductation Minister), another Baghdad roadside bombing that targeted the US military (no known injuries or deaths), a Gatoun home bombing on Liqaa Party provincial candidate Salim al Zaidi (no one harmed, house destroyed), and a Mosul roadside bombing that wounded two people.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Khadija Owaiyid's car was fired upon (a provincial election candidate with Party of the Constitution) and 1 police officer was shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes Iraqi police shot dead Tariq Azab.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 8 corpses (headless) discovered in Baquba while 30 corpses were buried in Baquba today ("Unidentified bodies that are not claimed within two months are buried by the Morgue").
Dave Lindorff truly embarrassed himself in his support of Barack Obama. Never more so than when declaring, during the Democratic Party primary race that Barack was "a black candidate who has risked jail by doing drugs". Now a glimmer of light finally makes it through Lindorff's Pig Pen-like haze surrounding him leading him to write (CounterPunch) the following:
The problem with the new Obama administration is that it is turning out to be not about change at all, as he claimed during the campaign, but rather about more of the same--and these are not times that call for more of the same. Nor is more of the same the reason Obama won the election.
The economic team President Obama has put in place is composed of the same Wall Street hacks and conservative economic theologians who helped produce the current crisis, many of them as part of the Clinton administration, and some, like Timothy Geithner, actually as appointees of the thoroughly discredited Bush administration.
Obama's military team is essentially composed of holdovers from the Bush administration, starting at the top with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and retreads from the Clinton administration.
Little wonder that the president's economic team is still talking about throwing more money at banks, with the only real tweak making this boondoggle different from the Bush administration's fall bailout that there will be some limits established on executive pay. Banks will still be able to use their taxpayer bailout cash to buy other banks. And there will still be no way to force them to lend money. Little wonder too that there is no real effort aimed at propping up the struggling public--no job sweeping job creation programs (except for expanding the military), no major income supplements for the poor, no expansion of welfare benefits, no mandatory mortgage renegotiations or mortgage payment holidays. And so far, no real effort to pass labor law reform to protect workers who try to form labor unions.
Little wonder too that Obama seems to be backing away from his key campaign promise to end the war in Iraq, and that the one area where he is moving rapidly is in expanding the war in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of western Pakistan.
Margaret Kimberley doesn't need to awaken because she never put her critical faculties on slumber. At Black Agenda Report, she notes:
Easily fooled Americans were glued to the television watching the Obama inauguration while simultaneous ignoring their own worsening financial situation. Who can bother to look at the fine print on multi-billion dollar deals when HISTORY is being made? Now the same zombified population ignores presidential inaction on bankruptcy "cramdown" legislation that could save their homes, explicit threats to Social Security, and back-tracking on employee free choice for labor unions.
In their delusion and despair, the only reaction left to non class conscious Americans is to turn on themselves. Murders and suicides are too often the reaction to financial disaster instead of righteous indignation directed towards a failed political and economic system. Americans are losing their minds when they might alleviate their depression by taking to the streets or at the very least giving their elected leaders a piece of their minds.
Americans never had the tools to fully understand the system that is failing them so terribly. Now they are enthralled by a man who explicitly instructs them not to confront the people and institutions that have brought them to the brink. The economic meltdown will continue for a long time and so will the individual meltdowns and disasters for millions of people who will literally not know what hit them or where they ought to turn after the crash.
Like Kimberley, John Pilger has no "awakening" to do. Like Kimberley, John Pilger called it like it was when all around the left, idiots rushed to have their second adolescence. Unlike some pathetic types (for example, Vincent Warren) trying to peddle hopium, Pilger (New Statesman) tells the truth regarding Barack and torture:
On 23 January, the Guardian's front page declared, "Obama shuts network of CIA 'ghost prisons'". The "wholesale deconstruction [sic] of George Bush's war on terror", said the report, had been ordered by the new president, who would be "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition . . ."
The bollocks quotient on this was so high that it read like the press release it was, citing "officials briefing reporters at the White House yesterday". Obama's orders, according to a group of 16 retired generals and admirals who attended a presidential signing ceremony, "would restore America's moral standing in the world". What moral standing? It never ceases to astonish that experienced reporters can transmit PR stunts like this, bearing in mind the moving belt of lies from the same source under only nominally different management.
Far from "deconstructing the war on terror", Obama is clearly pursuing it with the same vigour, ideological backing and deception as the previous administration. George W Bush's first war, in Afghanistan, and last war, in Pakistan, are now Obama's wars - with thousands more US troops to be deployed, more bombing and more slaughter of civilians. Last month, on the day he described Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism", 22 Afghan civilians died beneath Obama's bombs in a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds and which, by all accounts, had not laid eyes on the Taliban. Women and children were among the dead, which is normal.
Far from "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network", Obama's executive orders actually give the CIA authority to carry out renditions, abductions and transfers of prisoners in secret without threat of legal obstruction. As the Los Angeles Times disclosed, "current and former US intelligence officials said that the rendition programme might be poised to play an expanded role". A semantic sleight of hand is that "long-term prisons" are changed to "short-term prisons"; and while Americans are now banned from directly torturing people, foreigners working for the US are not. This means that America's numerous "covert actions" will operate as they did under previous presidents, with proxy regimes, such as Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, doing the dirtiest work.
Bush's open support for torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's extraordinary personal overseeing of certain torture techniques, upset many in America's "secret army" of subversive military and intelligence operators because it exposed how the system worked. Obama's newly confirmed director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, has said the Army Field Manual may include new forms of "harsh interrogation" which will be kept secret.
Obama has chosen not to stop any of this. Neither do his ballyhooed executive orders put an end to Bush's assault on constitutional and international law. He has retained Bush's "right" to imprison anyone, without trial or charge. No "ghost prisoners" are being released or are due to be tried before a civilian court. His nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, has endorsed an extension of Bush's totalitarian USA Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to demand Americans' library and bookshop records. The man of "change" is changing little. That ought to be front-page news from Washington.
And Chris Hedges is another who never lost his criticial thinking abilities (most recent example here). Hedges spoke today on KPFK's Uprising and here's a portion of his remarks:
I think we have to walk out on the Democratic Party. I didn't vote for Obama, I voted for Nader. A lot of that had to do with the war. I think the left has thorwn its -- has essentially rendered itself impotent by throwing in its lot with the Democratic Party that over and over and over betrays the interests of the working and, increasingly, the middle class in this country. I mean, just look at the bailouts -- constitutent calls were running a hundred-to-one against the bailout and they passed it anyway. Why did they pass it? Because lobbyists and corporate powers wanted it passed. The FISA reform act, which Barack Obama voted for, giant step towards fascism. Why did it pass? Because the telecommunications companies spent 15 to 20 million dollars in lobbying fees to make sure it got passed. The government at its core -- forget the rhetoric, forget the propaganda, forget "Yes, We Can" -- serves the interests of corporations. We are watching it right now with the financial bailout. We are watching it with the absolute failure on the Democratic Party to challenge the rapacious canabalization of the country by the military-industrial-complex.
In other news CNN reports that Jeremy Roebuck has died (car accident outside Fort Bragg) and Roebuck was one of seven members of the military who wrote the August 19, 2007 New York Times column "The War As We Saw It." CNN notes that he is the third soldier (of the seven) to die. From the 2007 column:
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a "time-sensitive target acquisition mission" on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse -- namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.