Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 4, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the RAND report gets some attention, Barack offers pretty words instead of action on gays in the military, a sheik is assassinated in Iraq, an 'analysis' of draw down leads one to lie and one to reinvent on Pacifica, and more.
This morning  Thomas E. Ricks appeared on NPR's Morning Edition to discuss his new book The Gamble with Steve Inskeep: 
Steve Inskeep: If you think the war in Iraq is a disaster and the US cannot leave soon enough, Ricks offers you no comfort.  If you think the surge of troops led to victory, Ricks will not comfort you either.  As we're about to hear, his book presents the war very differently than it looks in the headlines.  If you don't mind, I'd like to begin at the end.
Thomas E. Ricks:  Sure.
Steve Inskeep: You have a much noted quote at the end of the book which is?
Thomas E. Ricks: "The events for which this war will be remembered have not yet happened."
Steve Inskeep: What does that mean?
Thomas E. Ricks: It's actually a thought that came from Ambassador Ryan Crocker, top diplomat out in Iraq, who said it to me first in January 2008 and then when I did my last interview with him in November.  The prism through which we view this war has not yet been built.  We don't know how this thing comes out, so we don't know how to view this.   
Steve Inskeep: When I hear that quote the first thing that comes to my head is that after almost six years, it's just beginning?
Thomas E. Ricks: I think we may just be half-way through this war.  I know President Obama thinks he's going to get all troops out by the end of 2011.  I don't know anybody in Baghdad who thinks that's going to happen.  I think Iraq is going to change Obama more than Obama changes Iraq.  The plan they had in Baghdad last summer was about 35,000 troops to be there for several years.  General [Ray] Odierno says in the book that he would like to see 35,000 troops there in the year 2015 and that would be well into what is Obama's second term.  The point is as long as we have American troops in Iraq -- no matter what you call them -- you can call them 'noncombat' troops, you can call them Mousekateers -- they're going to be fighting and dying -- some of them.
Steve Inskeep: I want to explore the implications of that but first to understand why the military people you're talking with would think this way?  Because it's been observed from Washington and, in fact, it's observed in your book that the so-called surge of troops was in many ways successful, the amount of violence is down dramatically in Iraq, their electing people, things are happening in Iraq, why should we not feel that the war has been concluded -- whether you want to say victory or not, that it's over?
Thomas E. Ricks: The surge worked tacticly.  It improved security enormously but it didn't succeed strategically, politically.  And that was its larger goal.  What you see in Iraq is a lot of people who think Obama by talking about getting out of Iraq quickly is not departing from Bush but repeating Bush's mistake.  I think Bush's core mistake in many ways was persistant, unwarranted optimism about Iraq.  The original US war plan was to be down to 30,000 troops by September 2003 and so by Obama saying August 2010 is very much on that same path I think. 

Steve Inskeep: I think that some people listening to this may be trying to figure out where you're standing politically here and I have a feeling it's going to be difficult for people to figure out because you have written quite critically of the war, uhm, but you're saying the president is not right in trying to get out.
Thomas E. Ricks:  I don't know if there's a political label to be put on it.  I think you can call it uncomfortable more than anything else.  I do think this war was the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy.  I think it's a tragedy.  I think that George Bush's mistakes are something we're going to be paying for for decades.  We don't yet understand how big a mistake this is.  And I think that because it was such a tragic mistake, everything that flows from it is the fruit of the poison tree.  So the question is what is the least bad solution and I think staying in Iraq with a smaller force probably is that answer.
That's a transcript of almost the first half.  The link is audio only but it does contain an excerpt from the book.  Ashley Smith (CounterPunch) offers a strong critique of the book, highlighting what he sees as its weaknesses and strengths and we're noting this from the opening:
Obama extended his promised timeframe for withdrawing "combat troops" to 19 months. But even more telling is the aspect of Obama's policy that remained vague during the campaign--plans for a "residual force" of up to 50,000 soldiers to remain in Iraq through at least 2011.
This isn't a plan to end the occupation of Iraq, but to continue it in another form.
"You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "You can't be in and out at the same time. We must bring a conclusion to this sorry chapter in American history."
Obama's policy on Iraq has been shaped by a new consensus that has developed among the U.S. political establishment over the past year and a half. It holds that the surge of U.S. troops ordered by George W. Bush in 2007 stabilized the country, the war is now winding down, and the U.S. occupation will soon come to an end.
This is all an illusion--and a new book by Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post journalist and author of Fiasco, about the disaster of the U.S. invasion and the early years of the occupation, shows why, even if Ricks himself doesn't draw all those conclusions.
That's not really a critique of the book! Use the link.  We need truth tellers and Ashley is one.  At a time when so many are Cultist, we need that more than the critique.  (It's an important critique, I'm not dismissing it.  I'm noting that there are too may liars and cheerleaders and water boys for Barack.)  We need some intelligence as well and there's damn little to be found on Democracy Now! where we had Jeremy Scahill trying to reinvent history and Larry Korb either lying outright or senile.  (We have never praised Korb and we would never do so.) 
Korb repeats the lie that the Iraqi government forced something off on the US with the treaty masquerading as the Status Of Forces Agreement.  LIE.  The White House got what they wanted.  If they had not, they would not have signed it.  The White House held all the cards as everyone in Congress knew -- even those objecting to the treaty (which had no approval from the US Congress).  Nouri couldn't survive a day in Iraq without the support of the US.  Anything that the White House didn't want in, they could nix and threaten to walk away.  Iraq's military remains dysfunctional and without a military (currently the US military) propping him up, al-Maliki's head would most likely be on a stick in the center of Baghdad.  He had no position of power and how insane and offensive for Korb (and others, toss in Crazy Ass Patrick Cockburn) to pretend otherwise.  Iraq is an occupied country, occupied by the US.  Quit providing cover for the occupation -- and all the humilitation that entails -- by lying. 
Larry Korb: "The other [thing to remember] is the Iraqi people get to vote this summer on a referendum about whether they want to support the Status of Forces Agreement.  If they decide not to, all the forces have to be out withing a year."  Really?  Show me where the hell that is in the agreement?  Let me help the idiot Larry Korb, you would go to Article 30 of the SOFA.  Now, granted, you can't do that very easily because Barack's wiped it off the White House website.  I wasn't joking or using hyperbole when I said Barack's people had trashed the White House website.  They trashed it. Documents that were historical and significant -- and highly significant if charges were brought against George W. Bush -- are gone, pulled from the public record.  We have a copy of the treaty here.  This is the US version, released by the White House.  Article 30 covers how the contract can be terminated.  Larry Korb, find where it says that the treaty requires the approval of the Iraqi people?  It doesn't say that.  You add something to a contract, you put it into the contract or you didn't add it.  That's basic contract law and if you don't know the law don't try to discuss it. The Parliament voted to approve the treaty.  The presidency council signed off on it.  It can be broken -- as outlined in Article 30 -- at any point.  But there's no guarantee that a vote by the people (which isn't required by the treaty or by Iraq's Constitution) will result in the treaty being broken.  And who's paying for that vote, Larry?  Voting costs money.   al-Maliki's whining about shortfalls.  Who is paying for national election in July?  And how long before they have to start getting ready for such a vote?  The KRG's holding provincial elections in May and they're already in that process.  
We could pick through Larry's falsehoods bit by bit but he's as uninformed as he is boring so we'll wrap up with him on this: "The final thing is, come 1 July, our forces are out of the cities, they're out of the towns.  They're basically back on their bases."  Really?  Because that's allegedly a "goal" now.  And it taking place is disputed by US commanders on the ground in Iraq.  Now I realize that the treaty passed the Parliament on Thanksgiving Day and that Panhandle Media is a bunch of rejects who couldn't work in real media because they have sloppy work habits (to put it mildly) but at some point, when Thanksgiving is over, you either read the contract or you don't.  And if you don't, you don't jawbone about it.  We covered it, when it passed the Parliament.  Not the day after or the next week. November 27, 2008 snapshot has it.  We went through it bit by bit.  And we did it with that version, released by the White House, because it was already known -- and US Congressional testimony had repeatedly made this point clear -- that the Iraqis were given another draft of it, a different one, weeks earlier.  That wasn't the official draft.  It is the draft many have 'analyzed.'  A draft is meaningless if a subsequent version replaces it.  When the final draft came along, all the previous ones could be trashed.
So we're done with Larry Korb and if the CAP had any self-respect, they'd be done with him as well.  Which brings us to Jeremy Scahill.  Jeremy, you make it so hard to applaud when you can't stop lying.  Jeremy's analysis is stronger than Larry's.  But he's not content with that, he has to reinvent history.  Specifically, he has to reinvent his own actions.  We're not playing that game Jeremy.  You want to earn some respect, earn it. You're not going to lie your way to it and have us sit silent.  Here's Jeremey, disgracing himself by lying:
But the fact that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer all acted like astonished that there's going to be 35,000 to 50,000 troops in a residual capacity in Iraq and were criticizing this, I mean, this is a classic example of what's wrong with the Democratic Party when it comes to foreign policy and what's been wrong with this party for a long time. And that is that when it actually mattered, when Pelosi or Reid could have said to candidate Obama, "Back off that residual force," as many activists were calling for, they were deafeningly silent.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should have been calling for Barack to do that?  Really?  I kind of think so-called 'independent' journalists should have been holding Barack accountable but we didn't see that, did we, Jeremy?  We saw you attack Hillary for proposing that all mercenaries be banned from Iraq.  We saw you excuse away Barack's refusal to make the same call Hillary did.  Hillary did what you wanted and you attacked her, and you ripped her apart and, in your TV work, you had that smug little grin on your face while you did it.  You lied for Barack and you covered for him and you did so, tell the people, because Samantha Power was returning your phone calls and you felt included.  You were part of something!  Samantha was an advisor to Barack!  And she would take your calls!  Well, she'd return them.  She was too busy to actually take your calls.  But, whatever, you and Amy were so thrilled and you both pimped her as the next Secretary of State.  Here's more reinvention from Jerry Scahill:
We were at the Democratic convention, Amy, walking around, trying to find anyone to criticize that aspect of the Obama policy, and not even antiwar Democrats, who were firmly against the war from the beginning, would dissent from the policy positions of the dear leader. This is cult activity, when you refuse to go after someone to try to criticize their policies when it matters and then later act like you've been hoodwinked. They knew exactly what was going on.
Really?  Because Amy Goodman had a woman on who was attempting to criticize Barack. Do you remember what happened, Jeremy?  Amy cut her off repeatedly.  Amy wouldn't let Sacha Millstone speak and Amy even flat out lied.  Amy accused the woman of saying she'd vote for John McCain when the woman said no such thing.  It was Sacha, not Amy, who had to point out that America's choices are not limited to Barack or John McCain.  Amy carried Barack's water in the same way you're accusing the Democrats of doing.  No one in Denver -- that's where the convention was -- to speak out!!!!  Really.  Well maybe you and Amy should have covered the rally Ralph Nader and others (Rosa Clemente, the Green Party's vice presidential nominee spoke at it) held during the DNC, right there in Denver.  But you didn't cover that.  P.S. Samantha laughed at you.  She bragged to the campaign about her "seduction" (that was the term) of you.  (And for those late to the party, she didn't sleep with him nor was she implying she did.  She seduced with the prospect of access to the campaign.)  She turned you into a joke at the highest levels of Barack's campaign.  Excuse me, you allowed her to turn you into a joke.  Don't show up all this time after and think you can rewrite history.  It's not that easy.
Jeremy tosses around Bob Somerby's term ("Dear leader") today and offers a strong critique of Barack's craven 'plan.'  Had he stuck to that, we might have let him slide.  But when he tries to push the responsibility for his own misdeeds off on others? We're not in the mood to play that game.  Without Jeremy covering for him, Barack might not be where he is now.  Own it.
Those who want to own their part in ending the illegal war can take part in an action this month led by   The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War. From IVAW's announcement:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21stAs an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)     
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or
Need another reason to take part?  Here's Eric Margolis (Toronto Sun) breaking it down:
President Obama says U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011. However, the U.S. military occupation will not end. What we are seeing is a public relations shell game.
The U.S. has 142,000 soldiers and nearly 100,000 mercenaries occupying Iraq. Obama's plan calls for withdrawing the larger portion of the U.S. garrison but leaving 50,000-60,000 troops in Iraq.
To get around his promise to withdraw all "combat" troops, the president and his advisers are rebranding the stay-behind garrison as "training troops, protection for American interests, and counterterrorism forces."
At a time when the U.S. is bankrupt and faces a $1.75 trillion deficit, the Pentagon's gargantuan $664 billion budget (50% of total global military spending) will grow in 2009 and 2010 by another $200 billion to pay for the occupation of Iraq and Obama's expanded war in Afghanistan. Throw in another $40 billion to $50 billion for the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Larry Korb wanted to tell the world what the SOFA said -- a document he clearly hasn't read.  One thing is said was that Iraqi prisoners would be turned over to Iraq.  (Article 22, specifically section four of Article 22).  So how's that working for Iraq?  Yesterday the US military announced that they're 'only' holding 13,832 prisoners.  "Last month," the announcement states, "Task Force 134 Detainee Operations began releasing an average 50 detainees a day in accordance with the Security Agreement.  The signed agreement between the U.S. and the GOI requires all deatinees to be released in a safe and orderly manner or transferred to Iraqi custody pursuant to a judicial order."
Flipping from prisoners to refugees, at the US State Department today, spokesperson  Gordon Duguid was asked about Iraqi refugees in the US and stated, "Once anyone arrives in the US, they have the same rights and privileges as all American citizens.  We will ask the relevant office here, Ambassador Foley's office, what beyond that the United States can provide to Iraqi refugees.  But that is as far as I can go."  The State Dept followed up after the press conference explaining "Refugees in the US receive refugee benefits from the Department of State, then state welfare benefits through the Department of Health and Human Services."  Asked whether they could travel to Iraq (actually, asked if they could return, but it was seen interpreted as travel to), Duguid responded that there weren't any restrictions.  The State Dept followed up after the press conference noting, "To return to the US, refugees must have obtained a 'permission to return' from USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) office before departing the US." [Video is currently up, transcript should be up shortly.]  Meanwhile AFP reports Germany is expecting 400 refugees from Jordan and Syria and that these 400 are part of 2,500 Iraqi refugees Germany intends to welcome."  In all, Europe intends to welcome 10,000 Iraqi refugees.  There are approximately two million external Iraqi refugees and 2.5 million internal Iraqi refugees according to United Nations estimates.  Independent journalist Dahr Jamail has posted photos of the living conditions for some internal Iraqi refugees.
Turning to Iraqi politics, The Iraqi Islamic Party (IPP) is the party of Iraq's vice president Tariq al-Hashimi. It was in the news most recently when thugs ("Awakening") demanded the vote in Anbar Province's provincial election be 'fixed' by the so-called election commission. The thugs got their way. IPP is back in the news cycle. Alaa Majeed (UPI) reports they have spoken out against the visit by the chair of Iran's Assembly of Experts, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani: "IIP members said the visit is unwelcome and called on the Iraqi government to launch an investigation into Iranian interference in Iraqi internal affairs, which some say brought the war-torn country to the brink of civil conflict."  AFP reports that demonstrations against Rafsanjani's visit took place in Ramadi today with people carrying banners which read "The criminal Rafsanjani is a symbol of aggression and evil in Iraq" and "Rafsanjani's visit is inauspicious, a humilitation and a stain on the soild of Iraqi." UPI notes that (Sunni) Vice President al-Hashimi "did not attend a welcoming ceremony for Rafsanjani." Alaa Majeed (UPI) adds that there is now a push by by Shi'ite cleric Salih al-Haidari to 'encourage' al-Hashimi to meet with Rafsanjani.
While that gets sorted out, a sheik was targeted in Iraq today. Al Bawaba notes an attack on a Sheik outside Samarra.  Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports that the attack took place in Salahuddin Province (village of Tal al Thahab), utilized two sticky bombs attached beneath the sheik's vehicle and claimed the lives of Sheik Dhiab, "his mother, brother and son".  Reuters states there were four dead but describe them as the sheik, "his wife and two children".
In other violence today . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad suicide bombing which claimed the lives of 2 police officers, the bomber and left twelve people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people injured, and a Mosul suicide bombing which claimed the lives of 2 police officers, the bomber and left ten people injured/
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 16-year-old male shot dead in Mosul. Reuters notes an attorney shot dead in Kirkuk and 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 corpse discovered in outside Kirkuk.
Today AP's Lara Jakes reports on the US military's 'soft power' which is really counter-insurgency. At some point, maybe long after the illegal war is over, people are going to have get honest about what was done in Iraq. The Washington Post takes a step towards an elevated honesty by noting today "the resilience of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other groups". Maybe that's a sign of some maturity and honesty to come down the pike? As noted in Monday and Tuesday's snapshots, Wikileaks has posted a RAND study. The November 2008 study was written by Russell W. Glenn and S. Jamie Gayton, is over 300 pages and [PDF format warning] entitled "Intelligence Operations and Metrics in Iraq and Afghanistan, Fourth in a Series of Joint Urban Operations and Counterinsurgency Studies." The RAND study makes clear that the 'enemy' is more complex than the media tends to portray it as they toss around "al Qaeada in Mesopatamia" or "al Qaeda in Iraq" or (David Martin, CBS News) "al Qaeda." We'll note two sections from the RAND study. First from page two:

The many overlapping insurgent, terrorist, criminal, and other foes that together comprise the heterogeneous enemy in Iraq -- and an only somewhat less varied one in Afghanistan -- continue to feed on their damaged societies. What appear to be randmo bombings, kidnappings, and other atrocities sometimes constitute a well-conceived insurgent campaign of exhaustion.

And from page fourteen:

Previous U.S. experiences with COIN operations demonstrate how difficult it is to obtain informaion on even a single insurgent threat. Consider the situation confronted in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. In that case, a single, coherent entity dominated threat analysis from the macro perspective (though it might have several interacting components, e.g., the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong, of VC). In Iraq, the number of insurgent organizations alone makes intel collection and analysis several orders of magnitude more problematic. Add criminal, terrorist, supposedly legitimate political, rogue military and police, or other threats and the task is yet further quantum levels more difficult.

Ron Jacobs (CounterPunch) reports on the RAND report and observes:
Written in what can best be described as something akin to a technical writing assignment, the report echoes the recent statements from US generals in the Iraq/Afghan theaters and is reflected in the recent decision by Barack Obama to reduce the numbers of US troops in Iraq to 50,000 over the next 16 months and escalate the battle to subdue Afghanistan.  If there is one thing that this document makes clear, it is that the Pentagon and its civilian enablers have no intention of leaving Iraq or Afghanistan on their own.  Furthermore, it is their intention to take the lessons they believe they have learned in those two countries and apply them to Pakistan and wherever else their manifest destiny compels them to subdue.
This is not the Pentagon Papers of the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations/wars.  It is a document that hides the nature of the US operations in those countries behind an emasculated technospeak, rendering the true nature of the killing and destruction done in the name of the people of the US and the west.  The contemporary version of the policy discussions that were revealed in the Pentagon Papers about the US operation in Vietnam are not here.  Nor are the cables and directives that sent men off to kill and die.  Those documents have yet to be uncovered.  The usefulness of this report is in its look into the mindset of a modern imperial machine: a machine that never questions its mission or the human misery it causes but keeps its mind trained only on how to carry out that mission as efficiently as possible.  The banality of the evil of modern warfare is contained in every neutered sentence of this document and the thousands of others like them.  It is repeated in the newspeak of government officials and the sycophantic media that reports their words without challenging their consequences.  The circle of complicity continues is completed when the public accepts the arguments made by those officials and media as being the only argument that exists.
Meanwhile Anne Flaherty (AP) looks into where Barack's campaign promise of lifting the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the US military openly stands currently and discovers
lip service and not much more: "The move enables Obama to say he's making good on his campaign promise to reverse the law, but doesn't lock him into doing so anytime soon.  The carefully calculated statement, released this week by White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, leaves enough wiggle room to prevent the hot-button issue from consuming Obama's foreign policy agenda".  While Barack does nothing, people suffer.  Malcolm Garcia (McClatchy Newspapers) reported last month on Amy Brian -- the latest known person kicked out of the US military for being gay.  She told him, "I got along with everybody.  My close friends knew I was gay.  I never said it -- it was just known and wasn't a problem."  Until someone decided it was an 'issue' and she was kicked out.  Garcia noted 2008 figures were not yet available but at least 12,500 gays and lesbians have been discharged for their sexuality since 1994.
Lastly, Black Agenda Report is sporting a redesign. And, as always, also sporting hard hitting articles.  Example, former US House Representative and Green Party 2008 presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney writes:
So, it's clear.  I'm about to step into marshy soil here, by noting that I found 19 questionable Obama policies or statements in his Joint Congressional speech delivered three days before his announcement that upon the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, up to 50,000 U.S. troops could remain through 2011, after the "pullout."
And while various "mint" operations are peddling Obama "Change" coins for purchase, complete with a certificate of authenticity, I wade further into the muck by noting that the President continues the giveaway of our hard-earned coins to an economic team intent on keeping mismanagement structures in place, serving economic ends that do not constitute the common good.  I would refer readers to the many statements that I issued during the final days of our Power to the People Green Party Presidential campaign about re-creating an economic system truly and finally owned by the people, operating in our interest.  It is possible to do that.  All it requires is enough political will.
But what forces me out into the open marshland of "non-mainstream" political punditry has to do with the latest Obama "pullout": the decision to withdraw from the April 2009 Geneva United Nations World Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II.
We heard the same palaver in 2001 from the same forces inside our country, basically that a discussion of Zionism, in the context of such a Conference, would be anti-Semitic; therefore all the world's dispossessed and marginalized people must continue to suffer and sacrifice while muting their grievances so that no discussion of Israel would take place on the world stage in this context.
Well, in 2001, upon hearing this line of reasoning, I went to then-Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairwoman, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and asked if I could be appointed as the CBC Task Force Chair on Durban.  The non-participation argument was also a handy "peg on the track" with the potential of derailing many conversations, including a real discussion about the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the issue of reparations.  Respectful of the excellent preparatory work that had been done, I wanted to avoid that outcome.