Thursday, February 12, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, February 12, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the UK announces a death, the US Congress let's Iraq War Hawks advise on Afghanistan, candidates continue to be targeted in Iraq (yes, after provincial elections), the Minister of Women's Affairs may withdraw her resignation, and more.
"Over 800 billion dollars" have been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, declared Janet St. Laurent before matter-of-factly adding, "and billions more will be needed."  St Laurent, the Government Accountability Office's Managing Director, Defense Capabilities and Management Team, was offering testimony to the US House Armed Service Committee this morning.  "Addressing U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan: Balancing Interests and Resources" was the title of the hearing and Laurent was the only person on the panel that anyone in their right mind would call to testify. 
Jack Keane, called "General" throughout?  Well golly, does General Dynamics really deserve a seat at the table?  No, they don't and Jack Keane shouldn't be sitting on the board of a War Industry Corporation and offering 'unbiased' testimony to Congress.  It's APPALLING and SHAMEFUL. As Keane babbled on about what was 'needed' in Afghanistan and evaluated the 2007 escalation in Iraq (the "surge"), no one felt the need to explain that he pushed for that and is considered the brains behind it.  This was hardly unbiased testimony and it certainly wasn't testimony that disclosed to the public details they needed to know.  Keane, of course, belongs to the Council on/for/of Foreign Relations because you can never have enough of those War Hawk misfits and freaks at a hearing.  Enter Stephen Biddle who at least did some grooming before appearing this Congressional go-round.  Rounding out the unqualified losers trio was Anthony Cordsman and with Cordsman and Keane both offering their 'expertise' to ABC on a regular basis, one wonders why a hearing was even needed?  Or maybe the point is that next month, Congress will explore the wars by taking testimony from Al Roker and Regis Phiblin?
Roker and Philbin couldn't come off any worse than the rejects did and they'd probably both do a great deal better.  Early in the hearing, Committee Chair Ike Skelton wondered aloud about the Afghanistan War, how long it's drawn on and the American people's attitude toward it.  Keane's response should have alarmed the nation: "I would hope that we would craft a campaign in support of that [increasing troops in Afghanistan] . . . .  With a new president here, it is an opportunity . . . . to connect with the American people on this issue" -- it gets worse, but let's stop it right there for one moment.  Barack Obama is not the face of change.  He is the new face of the empire and Keane grasps that and grasps how Barack's false image provides opportunities for empire building.  Back to Keane who felt that the American people -- those supposedly in charge in a democracy -- should be given "a general sense without getting into specifics on our plans . . . if you sort of report out to the American people three or four times a year . . . our credibility stays intact."
It was a series of appalling statements (". . ." indicates editing on my part, he was very long winded) and equally appalling was that no one on the committee appeared bothered by it.  The closest to reality in the 'full committee hearing' (many members bailed during the hearing, many never showed) came from Ranking Member John McHugh with the first of what he dubbed two "editorial comment"s, "There is going to be a damn tough war and there is going to be casualties and there is going to be losses."  He was referring to Afghanistan Version 4.9 Rebooted and Expanded.  And he wasn't calling it out (he's a Republican, they generally don't call out meaningless wars), but at least he was noting some of the costs.
McHugh wanted to know what we'd measure success in Afghanistan with and the fact that this farce continued without any member of Congress screaming out loud shows you that Barack is the tool of empire intended to provide the clean slate.  There is no measure of success, not even from those advocating for more troops in Afghanistan.  As the 'surge' there approaches, there is no definition of success, no clear goals.  And we're all supposed to just forget that's how the US muddled through for the last eight years.  It was disgusting.  Cordsman tossed out a lot of words but had no answer -- though he clearly thought he'd provided them.  "What you do have to do," he intoned at one point fancies himself a grand thinker, "is move towards a level of stability."  Well, yes, Anthony, one would assume sending thousands of troops into a country should stabilize it but that's not really a way to "measure" success, now is it?
Biddle wanted to ignore the question completely.  He felt it was beneath him.  "The question is not what the current trend is, the question is the projection forward," he would declare in part of his run-on answer and explain that it was much more difficult to project forward; however, he thought that was one of his gifts.  No one else on the face of the planet thinks Biddle has even one gift.  But, again, it was nice that he showered for a change.  (He truly is -- as anyone who's attended his past performances can attest -- one of those men who believes it's shower OR cologne -- and generally he sticks with the latter.)  Biddle was so focused on "projection forward" that he couldn't see today's reality clearly.  He noted "many" diplomats are no longer needed in Iraq ("many of which we have less need for in Iraq") and "I would like to see a political surge" in Afghanistan. 
A political surge?  And he thinks that's worked in Iraq?  In fact, he thinks that the US diplomatic corps in Iraq needs to be thinned out?  He's the only one who feels that way and one longed for Senator Barbara Boxer to pop in and set the weasel straight.  No one touched on his comment.  No one followed up.  No one asked, "Biddle, what political progress are you seeing in Iraq?"  He can't even say provincial elections because Iraq has 18 provinces and only 14 have held the elections (plus the violence around the elections and the candidates has been intense).  But he's convinced that Iraq's chug-chug-chugging along so nicely we can pull the limited number of diplomats there and install them in Afghanistan. 
And how would we measure progress?  Have we all forgotten George W. Bush's refusal to define success in Iraq?  Keane has: "We clearly have to -- to win -- defeat the insurgency.  When the insurgency's defeated" and leaves "the battlefield or, as in Iraq, it comes to the political process," it will be . . .  what?  Attempting to clarify that clear-as-mud statement, Keane created two groups: Reconcilables and Irreconcilables.  Reconcilables, he says, will come into the process and Irreconcilables will not.  He forgot to inform where the Irreconcilables go?  Forced relocation?  Victims of death squads?  Who knows?  But Keane is saying that there are two groups of people in Afghanistan -- who knew their society -- or any -- was that simplistic? -- and when some of them are part of a political process and some of them aren't it will mean . . . something.  Clearly.
Struggling still to define success, Keane declared, "This will take resources" uh-huh "and it will take time" uh-huh "and it will take the blood of our troops."  Left unsaid was that it will enrich General Dynamics.  Left unsaid is that the sentence provides no measurables for success.  Since Keane had just basically (in that sentence) repeated what McHugh had said before asking his question, McHugh rushed to say (ignoring Janet St. Laurent's comments), "I couldn't agree with General Keane more."  Yes, active listening is a skill that is highly effective with young children and, apparently, members of Congress.  Keane's use of it was so effective, he had McHugh cheering him on -- despite the fact that he never answered McHugh's question.
(St. Laurent -- in case anyone's interested in her comments, McHugh wasn't -- called for a civilian and Defense Department "integrated approach" and measures for "whether or not these resources are being applied effectively?"  While a stronger answer on measures would have been appreciated as a member of the GAO, that might have been the most she could offer.)
US House Rep Gene Taylor was among the few Democrats to bother asking questions during the period where each representative could have had five minutes for questioning (this is where the hearing really began to thin out of of members and those who remained yawned, stretched, scratched themselves and looked bored -- as I'm sure did those of us in the visitor seats).  He noted that in Iraq the military had "to pay the tribes to stop shooting at Americans . . . It looks like a power sharing agreement has been made with the sheiks and they are shooting a lot less Americans."  This led to a curious claim on the part of Keane that "they're paying for it" -- the costs of the war, in Iraq.  He actually told the committee -- and no one questioned him on this -- that Iraq was bearing the financial costs of the war to the US and paying for it with their oil money.  And no one laughed out loud. 
A fact US House Rep Duncan Hunter apparently missed or he wouldn't have tried out his own one-liner: "We do have victory [in Iraq] and I hope you'll let people know that."  He hopes who will let people know that?  Keane?  Maybe when he's next on ABC?  Who knows, the entire statement was exactly the nonsense the country's come to expect from Duncan Hunter.  US House Rep Susan Davis noted of NATO allies and the Afghanistan War, "Their public opinion is worse than ours."  This appeared to irk Biddle who straightened his spine as he spat out, "Many Europeans do not believe that this is a war." Silly Europeans!  Maybe Keane's plot/plan to give limited updates three or four times a year can trick them and get them on board the way he seems to think it can fool Americans?  US House Rep Tom Rooney (Republican and one of Congress' newest members) spoke last.  He cited a book by Marcus Luttrell (presumably Lone Survivor -- written by Luttrell and Patrick Robinson).  And that was pretty much it.  A highly disappointing hearing but, considering the panel, that should have been expected.
And some say Nawal al Samurrai (also spelled al Samurraie in some press accounts) should have expected the lack of support as al-Maliki's Minister of Women's Affairs.  But she didn't and thought she would receive assistance.  Instead her ministry's tiny budget was cut further (from $7500 to $1500 a month).   Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) quote Parliamentarian Nada Ibrahim explains, "It's not a real ministry. It's one room with a woman, no budget, no staff. It's a trick." The reporters note that the issue "also highlights what many women say is the lip service paid them by the Shiite conservatives loyal to Dawa and other Shiite parties dominant in parliament. In August, Inaam Jawwadi, a female member of parliament from the Shiite bloc, called for Samarai's ministry to be turned into a Cabinet portfolio, but the proposal went nowhere." Susman and Ahmed explain, "Her eyes glistened with tears as she described the frustration of confronting widows and not being able to fofer them anything beyond promises that she would try to help.  She found herself sitting in her small office appealing to nongovernmental organizations for money to launch the programs she had envisioned when she took the position in July."  She tells them, "It's shameful for me in Iraq, a rich country, to have to ask NGOs for money."  To The Contrary's  Bonnie Erbe (US News & World Reports via CBS News) proposes, "Here's an idea: As a start, confiscate the Bush and Cheney family fortunes, which are voluminous, and use that money to feed the widows and orphans their war created."  Corey Flintoff (NPR -- this is a text only report at NPR) explains, "Samarraie, a 47-year-old gynecologist and member of parliament, says that part of the problem is that Iraq is a patriarchal society, where women are considered adjuncts of their husbands or fathers. And part of it, she says, is political expediency." Parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq declares the Shi'ite extremists don't support the women's ministry, "I mean, it was a joke from the beginning, and they will never support it.  And this poor lady, she was a minister for some time, but she didn't have any kind of financial support to support women's issues."  Flintoff reports women in Parliament are rallying around the issue, that a five hour meeting took place among them and that they are determined to address this leaving Samarrai debating whether or not to withdraw her resignation.  Susman and Ahmed note that al-Maliki's underlings deny any "allegations that women's rights have eroded since the rise of the Shiite power structure.  They point out that 25% of seats for the newly elected provincial councils are reserved for women" -- and we'll stop it right there.  January 14th, Alissa J. Rubin and Sam Dagher (New York Times) broke the news that although the 25% was supposed to be set aside, it had not been.  Instead, a new 'system' was put in place and it is not known how women will do under it but it is expected they will do far worse.  When al-Maliki's people point to the 25% figure, they are LYING and pointing to something legally overturned.  And while al-Maliki's thugs cut the 25% that was supposed to be law, the Kurdistan Regional Government ups their numbers. Alla Majeed (UPI) reports: "Kurdish lawmakers Wednesday made amendments to their provincial elections law to set aside 30 percent of the seats for females, al-Bayyna of the Iraqi Hezbollah reported Wednesday."  And last night, the KRG posted an interview with Human Rights Minister Dr. Yousif Mohammad Aziz who noted, among other things, "One of our biggest challenges is preventing violence against women.  Other challenges are street children and underage labour; terrorism and dealing with terror suspects according to the law.  Another challenge is to raise the public's awareness of international human rights laws.  I believe that since 1991, we have made some progress in these areas." Asked about statistis, Aziz responds, "The government statistics show a large increase in the number of women coming forward for protection because of the new specially dedicated directorates and the success of our campaign to raise awareness of the issue.  The positive sign is that the number of honour killings is decreasing.  Of course, the presence of such crimes is still appalling and our aim is to eliminate honour killings altogether, but we are seeing a definite improvement thanks to the multiple strategies we are employing."  That's a section of the interview, click here to read it in full.
In his opening statements at this morning's hearing, Ike Skelton declared of Iraq, ". . . Iraq, which has been our major focus for the last five years, seems to be trending in a positive direction.  Violence is down significantly and provincial elections have been conducted."  This as Xinhua reports, "Two Iraqi politicans were shot dead and a third was injured by gunmen in the volatile city of Mosul."  Abdul Kareem al-Sharabi (National Dialogue Front -- Sunni) was shot dead today, Ahmed Fathi (Iraqi Islamic Party -- Sunni) was shot dead "late on Wednesday" and Akram Khalaf  of the National Movement for Reform and Development was left injured in a shooting today.  As the violence mounts, some continue to wrongly cite those 'wonderful' elections and all the 'peace' they demonstrate. 
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a gas cylinder bombing in Karbala which claimed 7 lives and left thirty-five people injured, a Mosul car bombing which claimed the lives of 4 police officer and left three people injured  and a Baquba roadside bombing that left three people injured.
Meanwhile Philippine's GMA reports, "Vice President Noli de Castro on Thursday identified the unfortunate worker as Vergine Elias Jamil, a caretaker of the Philippine chancery since November 1985. Jamil and two other companions were killed by unknown assailants on the night of Feb. 5, said De Castro, who is also the presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)."  Xinhau explains that Iraqi Vergine Elias Jamil "was killed by unknown assailants inside her home last woman"
Today the UK Ministry of Defence announced: "It is with regret that the Ministry of Defence must annouce the death of a soldier from 1st Batallion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in Basra, Iraq, today, Thursday 12 February 2009.  The soldier died during a shooting incident in the early hours of the morning at the Contingency Operation Base." The death brings the number of UK soldiers killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 179 (and, yes, their supposed 'withdraw' was supposed to mean the end of British military deaths) while the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war currently stands at 4244,
Two excerpts from my new book The Gamble are running in the Washington Post Sunday and Monday. There also are some cool on-line only things -- not just another excerpt, but also a great video about how one officer, Capt. Samuel Cook of the 3rd Armored Cavalry, conducted counterinsurgency operations in one part of Iraq last year. (To read more about how Cook talked an insurgent leader into cooperation, read this excerpt from the book, a section called "The Insurgent Who Loved Titanic.")
Last night, Mike noted a report by Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg News) on one section of the book.  The section referred to is from pp. 308 -309:
Military planners have been mulling the shape and size of the "post-occupation" force ever since it became clear in mid-2007 that the surge was working tactically.  Such a long-term presence would have four major components.  The centerpiece would be a reinforced mechanized infantry division of 15,000 to 20,000 soldiers assigned to guarantee the security of the Iraqi government and to assist Iraqi forces or their U.S. advisers if they can get into fights they can't handle.  Second, a training and advisory force of close to 10,000 troops would work with Iraqi military and police units.  In addition, there would be a small but significant Special Operations unit focused on fighting the Sunni insurgent group al Qaeda in Iraq.  "I think you'll retain a very robust counterterror capability in this country for a long, long time," an American official in Iraq said in 2007.  Finally, the headquarters and logistical elements to command and supply such a force would total more than 10,000 troops, plus some civilian contractors.  Again, this would amount to a long-term committment in the area of 35,000 troops. 
Interestingly, that is about the figure that Gen. [Ray] Odierno [top US commander in Iraq] cited in my last interview with him for this book in November 2008.  Asked what the U.S. military presence would look like around 2014 or 2015 -- that is, well after President Obama's first term -- Odierno said, "I would like to see a . . . force probably around 30,000 or so, 35,000," with many training Iraqi forces and others conducting combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies.  To justify such a force, Odierno or [Gen David] Petraeus could read back to Obama the statement the candidate made in July 2008, not long before that trip to Iraq: "My 16-month time line, if you examine everything I've said, was always presmised on making sure our troops were safe," Obama had told reporters in North Dakota.  "And my guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable."  Indeed, they could argue that the last word is overambitious, because it will be a long time before anyone can confidently call Iraq stable.
In other news, US war resister Cliff Cornell turned himself at Fort Stewart TuesdayFrenchi Jones (Coastal Courier) reports he's been processed back to active-duty and quotes military spokesperson Kevin Larson stating, "He has been assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team.  He is getting a barracks space, drawing uniforms, getting a new ID and having his pay re-started because for all intents and purposes he is once again a part of the 3rd Infantry Division."
In the US, Bruce Dixon (Black Agenda Report) offers these observations on the presidency and Monday's press conference:

Later that day, in a similar spirit of telling old lies and avoiding old truths, President Obama used his very first press conference to label Iran and its alleged quest for nuclear weapons as the pre-eminent threat to peace and stability in the Middle East. Helen Thomas, the most senior reporter in the White House press corps, and the only one to stand up to Obama's predecessor, asked point-blank whether any other countries in the Middle East possessed nuclear weapons. It isof course common knowledge that Israel has hundreds of nukes aimed at every capital in the region from Tripoli to Teheran. No less a member of Obama's cabinet than Robert Gates at his confirmation affirmed that Israel has nukes, but it suited the new president to refuse to answer the question, to ignore Thomas's follow-ups, and to filibuster for four or five minutes in some other direction.

Tens of millions who voted for this president imagined they'd get real change. But the reality is dawning on many that what we're getting is a lot more of the same. We have a president who repeats discredited lies about "rogue regimes" with nuclear weapons, while he ignores Israel, a genuine 21st century apartheid state, which has menaced its neighbors with nuclear weapons for more than thirty years.

Obama volunteered at some point during the press conference, that the moment the true import of his new job sank into him was when he hadto sign letters notifying the families of American dead, "ourheroes," as he called them. The president made no mention of hisdecision, on this third day of office, to launch drones and cruisemissiles into Pakistan. Those missiles killed 17 people, includingseveral children. The drones were probably launched fromAfghanistan, and remotely piloted by stateside military personnel. Those dead, including the children, got no letters of regret from thepresident, and seemed not to register in the president's public calculus. After all, they were not American heroes.

The election is over. Those unconditional Obama defenders who answer the president's critics with "well what did you want, McCain?" are doing what their president says he won't do. They are living in the past, looking backward instead of forward. It's time to hold the current president and his actions up to the cold light of day, to evaluate his performance in light of his promises and our legitimate expectations for peace and justice. It's time those of us who stand for peace and justice stop protecting the president. We may soon need to be protected from him.

Lastly, Feminist Wire Daily reports:

The Health Care for Women Resolution was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress yesterday by co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). If passed, the resolution would help to ensure the needs of women would be met in national healthcare reform.

In a press release, Representative Schakowsky said "our resolution calls on Congress to pass a national healthcare reform bill within 18 months that directly addresses the healthcare needs of women." Senator Stabenow added "women must have affordable health care that they can rely on through their life transitions, including starting a family, working part-time or full-time, divorce, or caring for a sick or elderly parent."

Also yesterday, a Columbia University report (see PDF), entitled "Women's Health and Healthcare Reform," was released. This report calls for the linkage of family planning and prenatal care to women's medical care, ensuring that women receive accurate and complete healthcare information, that their healthcare is confidential, and that integrated reproductive healthcare is available across women's lifespans.