Friday, February 13, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Thomas E. Ricks tries to drag Americans to the grown ups table (no word on how successful the attempt was), Blackwater changes its name, at least 40 dead from a single bombing, and more.
Today Alan Gomez (USA Today) reports Maj Gen Michael Oates declaring he has no idea why US troops are in southern Iraq and "that he believes recent security gains there are permanent -- and that some of his troops are openly wondering why they're still there, even though he believes their presence remains crucial." Oatest acknowledges problems in Mosul but appears to think that's it. This as Iraq's rocked with the worst bombing of the year this morning. Iskandariya is south of Baghdad but it is considered to be "central Iraq" and not "southern Iraq." Wisam Mohammed, Sami al-Jumaili, Waleed Ibrahim, Khalid al-Ansary, Mohammed Abbas and Michael Christie (Reuters) report, "The attacks occurred despite heavy security on the pilgrimage route. The ranks of troops and police patrolling Kerbala were boosted by 5,000 to 30,000, a city official said. The Arbain rite, which culminates early on Monday, is difficult to secure. Many pilgrims walk all the way to Kerbala, and are easy targets as they cover hundreds of miles clutching religious banners." Michael Evans (Times of London) states, "A female suicide bomber disguised as a Shia pilgrim on the annual trek to the holy city of Karbala today killed over 30 people, mostly women and children. The woman set of a device hidden beneath the traditional abaya Muslim garment. At least 60 were wounded with head and chest injuries." The death toll and the number wounded have continued to rise throughout the day. Monte Morin (Los Angeles Times states, "The bomber had reportedly tried to pass through a checkpoint at Abu Al Jassim village, but failed. It was then that she entered the crowd of women and children who were eating lunch and detonated explosives strapped to her body." Saad Sarhan and Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) provide this context, "The bombing, which occurred shortly before noon, was the deadliest in Iraq this year. . . . Millions of Shiite pilgrims make a yearly pilgrimage to Karbala for the end of a 40-day period of mourning commemorating the death of Hussain bin Ali, one of the most revered figures in Shiite Islam." Wisam Mohammed and Sami al-Jumaili (Reuters) report 40 dead and sixty-nine injured. At the United Nations, the following statement was released on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
The Secretary-General is appalled by the suicide bomb attack against Shi'a pilgrims near Baghdad today, and similar attacks targeting innocent civilians in the past days which have left dozens of people dead and wounded, including many women and children. These acts cannot be justified by any political or religious cause and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Secretary-General joins with the people of Iraq in rejecting these cruel and reprehensible attempts to reignite sectarian violence in the country. He also calls on Iraqi leaders to work together in a spirit of national dialogue and mutual respect as demonstrated during the peaceful provincial elections held last month.
Helen Pidd (Guardian) notes the death toll has now risen to 35 and then she pimps the following, "Today's bombing is at least the second attack by a female suicide bomber this year in Iraq: on 4 January a woman blew herself up among a crowd of pilgrims worshipping at the Imam Musa al-Kazim shrine in northern Baghdad, killing 38 people and wounding 72. Though the overall number of suicide attacks has dropped off in recent months, attacks by women are becoming more common." Actually, Helen, the January 4th bomber was a MAN. See the January 6th snapshot, see the January 14th snapshot (at this point al-Maliki's government is admitting the Jan. 4th bomber was a man). Second of all, 30 female bombers in all of 2008 is not "more common" but how nice of you to play the alarmist. How about you tell your readers how many bombers there have been and then explain to them what a tiny percentage of that female bombers actually are? Oh, that wouldn't allow you to play the alarmist. The UNINFORMED alarmist. The scariest thing may be that Pidd is paid to write. The Feb. 2nd Khanaqin bombing is said to be a male suicide bomber or a female suicide bomber. And the gender there was actually worth following up on since al-Maliki's government was pimping the alleged confession of the woman they claimed was the 'Mother of all Bombers' (no, that's not the translation, that's what they were saying -- remember, she recruited, she had them raped, remember all those completely unverifiable claims?). If Mommy of all was indeed captured, who was overseeing these female bombers!!!! Daddy of all Bombers? Aunt of all? Who? Who????? Helen Pidd, please, please, wrap your limited capabilities around that story. McClatchy's Idiot in Iraq, Trenton Daniels also repeats the false claim that January 4th was a woman -- it was a man disgusied as a woman and you'd think as much water as McClatchy carries for Nouri al-Maliki, they'd gladly get it right just because he said so.
We'll use Trenton as our jumping off point to address the elections by noting the very bad article he wrote yesterday where he rushed to inform that al-Maliki was talking to Baathist officials in exile outside of Iraq. He left out a whole lot including the denials that such talks were taking place. Trent offered white-wash, not news. We'll again note Ma'ad Fayad's "Iraqi Dawa Party Official: No dialogue with Armed Groups" (Asharq Alawsat -- and Haydar al-Ibadi who is spokesperson for Dawa , Nouri's party):
Al-Ibadi categorically denied that any official in the state spoke to Baathist leaders whether inside Iraq or abroad.
He explained: "The Iraqi constitution does not allow this. Besides, the public' general mood does not support the Baath Party because it committed a lot of crimes during and after the rule of the [former] regime."
He added: "The Baathists have committed a lot of crimes and killed a large number of Iraqis since 2003 to date. It is they who allowed the Al-Qaeda Organization to enter the country and who were involved in the killing of hundreds of Iraqis."
He asked: "So, how can such a party rejoin the political process?"
However, Al-Ibadi noted: "There are Baathists who returned to their jobs and who live a normal life without any problems. But they did so as Iraqis, not as members of the Baath Party, which is known for being a conspiratorial military party that does not believe in democracy and does not allow the establishment of a democratic rule."
He added: "Permission for the return of the Baath Party to political action needs a constitutional amendment, and I very much rule out the possibility of such a move."
Trenton quotes al-Ibadi in his article, though he downgrades his position in the party. And he leaves out the whole denial that invitations were taking place. Here's reality, al-Maliki's being built up by the press and they never intended to report on the Baathist issue. The fact that some Americans were noticing the situation meant it was time for a white wash and look who shows up.
So what he gives you is, 'Guess what, invitations to Baathists are going out!' He leaves out the entire denial that they were taking place -- a HUGE story in Iraqi media at the start of the week. He leaves out the claims of Constitutional issues at play.
He reveals himself as something other than a journalist. Toss a Hershey bar on the ground in front of him and he will drop drawers and drop to all fours.
There's Trenty, in too much make up and heels that will kill his back and feet, cooing about "Iraqis' desire for a strong ruler. In the poll's preliminary results, Maliki's State of Law coalition won a plurality of the votes in nine of 14 provinces -- more than any other party. Maliki has reinvented himself as a pragmatic, non-sectarian leader. He was the bold figure who crushed both Sunni and Shiite militias, although his opponents charge that he's becoming a dictator." His opponents say that? I can think of many NGOs that say similar things off the record. al-Maliki has not "reinvented himself," the press has and it takes idiots like Trent -- the equivalent of a general studies major -- to continue to pimp the equivalent of state legistlature elections (only in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces*) as 'heavy on the symbolism.'
The portent was there when al-Maliki began campaigning around the country, offering empty promises and bribes, and he wasn't a candidate. If the President of the United States started trying to pull that stunt in Vermont, people would be outraged. They would rightly point out that the President has no business sticking into his nose into the election of a state legislature. But al-Maliki sits on billions and he controls how it is spent. He completely thrwarted the democratic process and he should have been called out for it. The elections do not indicate a damn thing. The country remains split. Iraq has 18 provinces, nine -- if you misread the results -- are for al-Maliki!
Well nine aren't. Kirkuk might go for him. It's doubtful but it could happen. The three Kurdish provinces will not be hopping on board the Dawa Party wagon.
And if people want to get really honest, what the results indicate is a federation just became more likely. Look at the provinces. The north won't go with al-Maliki's party, nor will the south. The support cuts straight along the lines of proposal for breaking up Iraq.
What the results -- if people want to read them as support or non-support for al-Maliki (and that's how the press has played this) -- indicate is that the southern section of Iraq stands a good chance of becoming its own regional government the way the northern section is now the KRG. That's good news for al-Maliki?
No, it's not. All the oil rich areas and the ports are denied him with 'control' over central Iraq only. Not only is not good news, it indicates that should al-Maliki do something that the KRG and the southern region do not support, he's about as powerful as Hamid Karzai. If the press insists upon wrongly maintaining that the results (still not official results) say something about al-Maliki, then what it actually says is he has very tiny base of power, it is centrally located in Iraq and he's hemmed in there with only slightly more room than Karzai. Meanwhile Marc Santora (New York Times) points out regarding today's deadly bombing, "For the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, which has been widely credited with improving security significantly in the past year, the pilgrimage had represented an opportunity to showcase the efficiency of its security forces. But after the recent spate of attacks, including four in Baghdad alone this week targeting pilgrims, his government is now facing criticism." Today Thomas E. Ricks reminded everyone, "Remember the elections a couple of years ago, puple fingers, people coming out? Followed by a civil war. So I think there's a lot of reasons that Iraq '09 is going to be very tough and harder, in fact, than the last year of Bush's war. And I think there's a good chance that Obama's war in Iraq will last longer than Bush's war." We'll come back to Ricks and that CBS interview in a minute.
But tensions continue to rise between Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Government. At yesterday's State Dept briefing, AP's Matthew Lee raised that issue (here for text, here for video).
Matthew Lee: Robert, speaking of the people who feel ignored by the United States, the Kurds, there seems to be growing concern and some resentment in northern Iraq that the United States is not paying enough attention to the situation there and to the concerns that they have. Can you offer any reassurance to the Kurdish leaders who think that? I mean we've got one here, the regional prime minister saying, "We love the U.S., and they don't care."
Robert Wood: Well I haven't seen those remarks. I don't actually know what they mean. But look, we have been working with the Iraqi Government to do what we can to support a democratic process going forward in Iraq that encompasses the views, the aspirations of all peoples who live in Iraq. Iraq has made a lot of strides, as you know, Matt. It's been a very challenging several years for the people of Iraq. Yes, there are concerns from various groups. There is a democratic government in place. There is a system in Iraq that allows for complaints from various groups, parties to seek, you know, restitution. The democratic experiment in Iraq continues. The recent elections were very positive. That's the best I can tell you, with regard to -- I haven't -- while I've seen these types of comments --
Matthew Lee: Your response? You went on for awahile, but you didn't mention, you know, you didn't mention who I was asking about. What can you do to reassure the Kurds specifically that -- that you are --
Robert Wood: Well it's not so much what the United States has to do. It's really what the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people decide is going to be the future of their country. And I think the Iraqi Government has chosen a path of democracy. It's experiencing, as I said, a number of challenges. But there are ways for peoples in Iraq to bring the concerns that they have to the levers of power. And it's a democracy, and it's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone. It's the Iraqi people and -- through -- and with the Iraqi people, their government, to deal with questions like those.
Matthew Lee: Okay. But you still haven't used the word that begins with K. Is there some reason why you're reluctant to do that?
Robert Wood: No, there's no specific reason at all. I've just given you, I think, is what our views are with regard to Iraq and its future, and where there may be some issues that some of the ethnic groups have.
Matthew Lee: Right. But -- well, your response, I don't think, is going to reassure anyone. In fact, it's going to reinforce their concerns --
Robert Wood: Well, I would disagree with you. What I've said, and I've been very clear about this, is that there is an Iraqi Government, a democratically elected government that's responsible for dealing with the issues that confront its people. And the United States is -- has been a helpful partner. We will continue to be a partner and friend to the Iraqis. But with regard to complaints that various groups may have about their future in Iraq, in the end, that's going to be a decision determined by the Iraqi people and its government -- and their government.
No, press spokesperson Robert Wood never did answer the question. And tensions continue on the border between northern Iraq and Turkey. Xinhua reports that Turkey's latest air strike resulted in 13 deaths, supposedly all PKK which the US, Turkey and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization.
"I think there are a lot of reasons Iraq '09 is going to be very tough and, in fact, harder than the last year of Bush's war. And I think there is a good chance that Obama's war in Iraq will last longer than Bush's war." That's Thomas Ricks speaking today on CBS' Washington Unplugged (link is video). Thomas E. Ricks has released a new book:
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.")
Everyone also attempts to avoid the realities of the resistance. This week NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (Morning Edition -- text and audio) reported on resistance fighter Abu Abdul Aziz (not his real name) who informs, "I have killed many Americans, not just one or two. When I kill them, I feel happy, like victory is coming. . . . If you look into my heart, you won't find any sympathy for the Americans at all. That's not because I have no human feelings, but because I feel that they are here to harm us, to steal from us, to kill our women and our children. . . . The honorable resistance does not do suicide bombings. That's al-Qaida. We do not harm innocent people, Muslims or not Muslims. Our target is only the Americans." Garcia-Navarro also reported on the Iraqi police:
Inside Samarra's local police station, officer Adnan Shakir, who works in the investigation unit, says things are better, but "it's a fragile safety, it's a cautious quiet."
The problem, he says, is mistrust between the different branches of the security forces here, especially between local Sunni policemen like himself and the mostly Shiite national police.
"The national police, they don't know how to deal with the people here. They are outsiders. There are always problems; when there is any problem, they use their weapons," he says.
Shakir says many of the complaints they investigate come from local residents regarding abuses by national police. Some are serious. Several women have come forward saying they were raped or assaulted by members of the national police.
Capt. Waleed Abdul Rahman is the head of the major crimes division at the local police station.
"One girl claimed that the police commandos violated her. In another case, a girl was kidnapped, and her family claimed that she had been forcibly abducted by a national policeman as well and taken to Baghdad," he says.
Abdul Rahman says the first case was never investigated. The second girl was slain by her family in a so-called honor killing when she returned home.
The captain says they generally don't take the complaints of assault and rape seriously.
But without an investigation, it's hard to determine the truth of the allegations or how widespread the problem may be.
They don't take the complaints seriously? Well why should they? With the delightful prospect of an 'honor' killing, what girl or woman wouldn't rush to their police station to declare a rape falsely! That attitude of assuming the woman is lying is part of the problem in Iraq. That attitude gets backed and stroked when the US installs thugs because they are cheaper to work with and may bring quicker 'stability' (widespread fear).
In some of today's other reported violence . . .
CNN reports a Mussayiab mortar explosion that claimed the lives of 2 children. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad grenade attack that left three police officers wounded.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a home invasion in which the Ministry of Defense's Thamir Yousif and his son were shot dead.
In other news, do you know Xe? Mercenaries hope you don't. Maddy Sauer and Megan Churchmach (ABC News) report, "The scandal-ridden security firm Blackwater USA is officially changing its name effective immediately as the company moves to rebrand itself after being fired last month by the State Department from its job protecting diplomats in Iraq." Why Xe? Maybe because XYZ would have left them feeling exposed? For those keeping track, this is the third name change in recent years for the company. Blackwater USA was the name until the infamous Baghdad slaughter September 16, 2007. Then it became Blackwater Worldwide. And it has many new names. For example, Blackwater USA is now know as US Training Center which is "An Xe company." This includes not only their physical facilities in Moyock, NC, Mt. Carroll, Il and San Diego, CA but also their home study courses, where they let you tailor your killing needs specifically for your company in the designing of "custom courses." The name change is rather surprising when you consider that if an individual appeared before a judge and asked to change their name, he or she would be asked if there were any outstanding debts or liability actions? Xe is pronounced "Z," Jennifer Wells (Globe and Mail) explains and notes the September 16, 2007 slaughter and how "a company spokesman told The Associated Press that the rebrand was 'not a direct result of a loss of contract, but certainly that is an aspect of our work that we feel were defined by'." Howzit Howard (Hawaii's KGM9) wryly observes, "Blackwater Worldwide, an employer of mercenaries that arguably made life more dangerous for the real U.S. soldiers in Iraq, has decided to take decisive action about its bad name. It is changing it."
Yesterday the UK Ministry of Defence announced the death of a soldier in Basra. He's been identified as 21-year-old Ryan Wrathall. They note Ryan Wrathall "deployed to southern Iraq in November 2008 and was about halfway through a six-month tour of the country as a member of the 5 RIFLES (Strike) Battle Group" and that "The incident, which occurred at approximately 0630 hours local time, will be subject to a full investigation. No enemy forces were involved and there is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was involved. "
Turning to US politics, the stimulus is in the news and it is being analyzed. Michael Hudson (CounterPunch) offers:
The first question to ask about any Recovery Program is, "Recovery for whom?" The answer given on Tuesday is, "For the people who design the Program and their constituency" – in this case, the bank lobby. The second question is, "Just what is it they want to 'recover'?" The answer is, the Bubble Economy. For the financial sector it was a golden age. Having enjoyed the Greenspan Bubble that made them so rich, its managers would love to create yet more wealth for themselves by indebting the "real" economy yet further while inflating prices all over again to make new capital gains.
The problem for today's financial elites is that it is not possible to inflate another bubble from today's debt levels, widespread negative equity, and still-high level of real estate, stock and bond prices. No amount of new capital will induce banks to provide credit to real estate already over-mortgaged or to individuals and corporations already over-indebted. Moody's and other leading professional observers have forecast property prices to keep on plunging for at least the next year, which is as far as the eye can see in today's unstable conditions. So the smartest money is still waiting like vultures in the wings – waiting for government guarantees that toxic loans will pay off. Another no-risk private profit to be subsidized by public-sector losses.
While the Obama administration's financial planners wring their hands in public and say "We feel your pain" to debtors at large, they know that the past ten years have been a golden age for the banking system and the rest of Wall Street. Like feudal lords claiming the economic surplus for themselves while administering austerity for the population at large, the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population has raised their appropriation of the nationwide returns to wealth – dividends, interest, rent and capital gains – from 37 per cent of the total ten years ago to 57 per cent five years ago and it seems nearly 70 per cent today. This is the highest proportion since records have been kept. We are approaching Russian kleptocratic levels.
Left Business Observer's Doug Henwood (LBO News from Doug Henwood) explains:
And it looks like the Treasury and the Fed will pump up some $250-500 billion to help hedge funds buy bad assets - with the FDIC guaranteeing the buyers against losses.
At this point, the only thing that makes any sense is to nationalize the weakest banks, kick out management, wipe out the shareholders, clear the decks, and start over with a tightly regulated system. This isn't even all that radical a position anymore - and it may be inevitable, if these sick and devious "public-private partnership" schemes don't work out, which seems likely. There is a radical nationalization position - take the banks over and convert them to public institutions - but I know that's completely out of the question with this gang. But they're doing absolutely everything they can to avoid even an orthodox nationalization. This is looking more and more like Japan's disastrous indulgence of their "zombie banks" in the 1990s than Sweden's successful bailout, the model for the "nationalize them and clear the decks" approach. Instead of a few rough years, we're likely to get a miserable decade.
They've botched the stimulus, and they're botching the financial rescue. They're worse than I expected, and I wasn't expecting much in the first place (see: Obamamania, a febrile disease).
Bill Moyers Journal's Michael Winship explores the bailout:
You know what they say - half a million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. News from the White House that $500,000 was the cap the government wants to put on executive salaries at the banks receiving bailout cash had some on Wall Street and along the plush corridors of Manhattan's swank Upper East Side hollering "Unfair!" (But without those unsightly street demonstrations and picket lines, of course.)
"You Try to Live on 500K in This Town" was the tongue-in-cheek headline in last Sunday's New York Times. Just add up private school tuition, mortgage payments, maintenance fees and wages for the nanny and you're already up to more than $250,000 a year - and that's pre-taxes, assuming you're paying any. Then tote up payments and upkeep on vacation and weekend homes, charity balls, car and driver - pretty soon you're maxing out your American Express Black Card.
But they work hard for their multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses, perks and solid gold benefits, complained some of the financiers. Besides, executive headhunters say, the money giants just can't get good help for anything less. Good help? Spare us the kind of moguls who helped us straight into the current deep, dirty hole we're trying to climb out of.
"Like spoiled, petulant children," is how Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein described them. "These guys won't be happy until the government agrees to relieve them of every last one of their lousy loans and investments at inflated prices, recapitalize every major bank and brokerage and insurance company on sweetheart terms and restore them to the glory days, so they can once again earn inflated profits and obscene pay packages by screwing over their customers and their shareholders."
More of the essay can be found online at the show's blog. Tonight on most PBS stations, Moyers speaks with Simon Johnson (about the stimulus) and with poet Nikki Giovanni.
Which brings us to public TV notes, NOW on PBS offers a look at the stimulus package and zooms in mas transit and North Carolina as "part of a PBS-wide series on the country's infrastructure called 'Blueprint America'." And online, last week NOW dealt with the Housing Crisis and Manish Thakor ("financial guru") replies to questions viewers asked. NOW on PBS begins airing on most PBS stations tonight, check your local listings. Washington Week also begins airing on many PBS stations tonight and Gwen's roundtable gasbags this week include Gloria Borger (CNN, US News & World Reports), John Maggs (National Journal), John Dickerson (Slate) and Martha Raddatz (ABC News). And on broadcast TV (CBS) Sunday, no 60 Minutes:
Coming Up On 60 Minutes:
The economic stimulus package includes a "buy American" clause that the steel and other U.S. industries lobbied hard for. However, American businesses that export overseas now worry foreign governments will retaliate and keep U.S. products out of their market, hurting their business. Lesley Stahl reports.
World Of Trouble
Three years before the housing market crash, Paul Bishop says he warned his superiors at World Savings - the nation's second largest savings and loan company - that many of the mortgages they were granting were misleading and predatory. Scott Pelley reports.
War In Pakistan
Steve Kroft reports from Pakistan, where Islamic insurgents are trying to take over the country and he interviews its new president, Asif Ali Zardari.
60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.