Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, March 11, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, Robert Gates continues speaking but some aren't listening, Thomas E. Ricks can analyze and report but he fails as a media critic (and contradicts himself), Crazy Ass Cockburn distorts the interview Martha Raddatz did this week, and more.
Last night, Tavis Smiley spoke with Thomas E. Ricks, author of the New York Times best seller author of The Gamble, on PBS' Tavis Smiley.
Tavis Smiley: He ran a campaign that was based on getting out of Iraq and getting out quickly.  There are millions of Americans who voted for him precisely because of that pledge there are many of us who believe that promises made ought to be promises kept but that's another issue to your point now about it now being as easy as what he thought it was going to be.  What then will happen to those millions of Americans who will feel disenfranchised disappionted let down some maybe even lied to if he can't get out, to your point, as quickly as he promised he would?
Thomas E. Ricks: Well first of all, he's already broken a promise because he said he was going to get out one combat brigade a month over the course of many months.  Well now he's stopped that.  He's going to keep the troop levels more or less the same.  By the end of this year, he'll be down to maybe 132,000 troops -- which is where we've been in rough average for the last five years so he's planning on making his big troop withdrawals next year. Whether that happens or not, we'll see.  But he said after that, after August 2010, it will stop being a combat mission.  Well it doesn't -- the war doesn't end because one president hangs a "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED"  on an air craft carrier, it doesn't end because one president says the combat  is over.  Our war ends when American troops stop dying in Iraq.  
[. . .]
Tavis Smiley:  So forget what Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winning, number one New York Times best selling author has to say, I'm going to pull these troops out because I told the American people I would, I want to run for re-election and I know I can't run for relection if I'm don't -- if I'm not going to be accountable to what I said I was going to do, so I'm going to pull them out anyway.  And then what happens?
Thomas E. Ricks: I don't think that's going to happen, first of all, because Obama has also promised Iraqis he will not abandon Iraq I think he will get the troop numbers down probably close to 50,000 in 2010 but I think he's going to find it's much harder to actually get the last 50,000 troops out That Iraq is going to say "We want you to leave but not yet."  So he'll say, 'We can't abandon Iraq so we'll have to continue this mission awhile longer than I'd hoped."
Tavis Smiley noted the discussion of the  'surge' during the lead up to the 2008 general election ("and here comes Thomas Ricks saying 'the surge failed'").  Ricks acknowledged an "improved security" but pointed out "it's purpose was that larger purpose"  -- create the space for "a political breakthrough."  These are the benchmarks set by the White House, signed off on by Nouri al-Maliki and which were supposed to be achieved in 2007 . . . and then in 2008.  And . . . everyone's forgotten them. 
Everyone should forget Thomas E. Ricks as a media critic.  On Monday's Talk of the Nation (NPR), he was asked a question by a caller and completely blew it -- a question about the shameful media coverage in the lead-up to the illegal war.  Tavis asked him about that as well and the reply was laughable.  He maintains that the coverage was there.  That these issues were covered.  That it was covered in real time but  "People kind of shrugged" -- the American people shurgged.  That's a deception or a denial.  The polling showed that the public made a connection between 9-11 and Iraq -- when there was NO connection -- and that was because the White House tied them together -- sometimes directly, sometimes by linkage, sometimes by insinuation.  That public record exists and, NO, the media did not call it out.  Ricks said, "Yes, the New York Times did screw up with their Weapons of Mass Destruction coverage" -- that would be Judith Miller and Michael Gordon's work.  Predominately their work but, at the paper, there were more getting it wrong.  And then Ricks wants to insist NYT is "one city's newspaper."  The New York Times has a larger profile than the Washington Post, a larger profile and more influence, than any other newspaper in the United States.  It is a national paper and it sells more copies outside of NYC than it does in NYC.  So it is not just "one city's newspaper."  The media is largely based in NYC which is why Today, Good Morning America, et al, will always lead with, "The New York Times is reporting this morning . . ."  I don't know if it was some paper envy or what, but Ricks needs to stop down playing the paper's influence.  Judith Miller is the scapegoat for everyone.  It was Judith Miller!  As we've long noted, Miller didn't edit copy, choose the front page, print the papers and toss them to your yard each day.  We've also noted MIller didn't book herself on PBS, the Sunday chat & chews, Oprah, et al.  Judith Miller screwed up -- and then some -- but the idea that it was only her and that she's responsible requires you believe that until her downfall, Judith Miller was running everything.  She was running the New York Times, she was running NBC, ABC, CBS, HARPO Prodcutions, PBS, NPR, go down the list.  That's not reality and it's not reality for Thomas E. Ricks to claim of the New York Times' deadly coverage, that's just "one city's newspaper." Nor is accurate for him to claim that the press was reporting reality; however,  "the people didn't want to hear it, the congress didn't want to hear it."  That's deceptive and it's lying and we don't have time for that nonsense.  Thomas E. Ricks works for the Washington Post.  June 19, 2004, Howard Kurtz (Washington Post) noted the New Republic's "we feel regret, but no shame" editorial -- they never feel shame, they're incapable of it.  Kurtz noted, "News organizations that reported on the war and commentators who backed it have faced a similarly thorny dilemma since the failure to find illegal weapons in Iraq, along with the increasingly violent climate there. Were they wrong -- in which case they owe their readers an explanation -- or simply conveying what many officials and analysts believed at the time?"  He mentioned a May editorial in the Post where the paper wondered if they were wrong (the editorial board wondered) and concluded it's too soon to tell.  It's no longer too soon.  They were wrong. But most pertient to this topic and to the Washington Post was Howard Kurtz' August 12, 2004 front page story "The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story."  Walter Pincus, Karen DeYoung, Dana Priest, Leonard Downie and others share, from the reporting and the editorial side, issues that impacted the paper's poor coverage (and it was poor). 
On yesterday's broadcast of Tavis Smiley, Thomas E. Ricks declared, "I think the media actually did a pretty good job in asking the right questions [Tavis is shocked and asks, "You-you-do?"] Yes.  The problem is nobody wanted to listen, nobody -- we wrote all the stories about all of these problems that might lead -- might be the consequence of Iraq.  People kind of shrugged, 'So what it's going to happen'."
People did that, did they?  The American people?
For Thomas E. Ricks to attempt to rewrite history and to claim that the fault lies with the American people who just didn't want to hear the truth is beyond INSANE.  In fact, let's quote a reporter for the Post explaining to Howard Kurtz how the paper handled (sold) the illegal war: "The paper was not front-paging stuff.  Administration assertions were on the front page.  Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday.  There was an attitude among editors: Look, we're going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"
A reporter for the paper told Howard Kurtz that the attidue among the editors was it didn't matter because "we're going to war."  Thomas E. Ricks told Tavis the people had that attitude.  The problem with these two conflicting tales is that Thomas E. Ricks gave both of them. 
The reporter quoted by Kurtz above is Thomas E. Ricks and he wants to show up five years after that article ran and say it was the people's fault?  But he wanted to say, in 2004, the problem was the articles questioning the adminstration were being buried while the adminstration's claims were front paged.  You can't have it both ways.  I don't know how that played out to most people but I let his opinion expressed Monday pass without comment (we didn't even note it).  But we're not going to let him alter the facts. 
He may very well NOW feel that the media did a great job.  But he's not going to now take the problems he pinned on editors and turn around and pin them on the American people.  That's not going to play, it's not going to fly.  It needs to stop.  Yes, memory is a tricky thing.  And five years may seem a stretch but we will not be silent while he not only rewrites history but also changes his own remarks made for public consumption.  And I don't know how you go on TV and contradict a front page article your paper ran, one that you were quoted in.  I just don't get how that happens.  If your memory is that faulty, maybe you should leave media criticism to Howard?
By the way, Tavis Smiley tonight features Tavis interviewing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  So Thomas E. Ricks is demonstrating that media criticisim is something he should leave to others.  While he has one weakness, does Crazy Ass Cockburn have a strength?  Patrick Cockburn shows up today suddenly interested in Iraq -- it's a 24-hour bug, it will pass quickly.  How does someone claim to be a reporter -- not a columnist -- and get away with including the following in a news story: "Taken together, the bombings show that al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which almost certainly carried them out . . ."  What?  There is no proof for who carried them out.  No reporter -- no real reporter -- would put their name to such garbage.  Crazy Ass Cockburn needs an editor and he needs to reaquaint himself with journalism.  Yesterday's snapshot included: "Hazim al-Nuaimi, a political analyst, tells Waleed Ibrahim and Aseel Kami (Reuters), 'These attacks raise questions about political power struggles' and he questions the rush by some to blame al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (which is only one of many groups resisting the US occupation)."  Today Alissa J. Rubin and Marc Santori note of yesterday and Sunday's bombings, "Iraqi military leaders emphasized that it was too early to draw any firm conclusions but noted similiarties in the attacks in which more than 60 people were killed since Sunday." So with the two most recent bombings that led to massive deaths, even the Iraqi military is just noting similiarities -- they're not even stating who it is is.  "Some," Rubin and Santori inform, "Iraqi military officials" believe it may be al Qaeda in Mespotamia with the assistance from former Baathist.  That Baathist group is apparently now using the name Al Auda ("the Return").  But those are just possibilities.  Patrick Cockburn knows, just knows, what really went down.  If he worked for a real paper with a real editorial staff, Crazy Ass Cockburn would have never gotten the following into print: "The Iraqi government is unlikely to ask any US troops to stay on after the agreed withdrawal date at the end of 2011, the US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, has confirmed."  When did Odierno confirm that?  Not to Cockburn (I asked, M-NF states Odierno's given Cockburn no private interview).  Now Martha Raddatz (ABC News) got an exclusive interview with OdiernoMonday's snapshot noted her exclusive interview and this is the section that Cockburn twists around to put forward his lie:

RADDATZ: And you believe we will be completely out of here by 2011?  


ODIERNO: We will. We have signed an agreement that says we will be and I think we're on track to do that.  


RADDATZ: But that could change? If the Iraqis want it to change?


ODIERNO: It's their decision. It's a decision that they have to make. But I don't see them making that decision right now.


RADDATZ: But would you still say it's conditions-based, until then?


ODIERNO: No, I think it's based on an Iraqi assessment. Again, if we stayed ... Again, our plan is to be out of here by December, 2011. That's the agreement we signed and we will meet those requirements. What, if the government of Iraq asks us, if they ask us to stay, want to renegotiate, then we'll go through renegotiation and we'll decide at that time what that means.  


RADDATZ: I guess I look at other places and I look at Bosnia where we were for ten years and they weren't even shooting at each other then, and in terms of stability, being out by 2011 seems pretty rapid.  


ODIERNO: Well, again, I think that's a judgment that will have to be made later on.

Crazy Ass Cockburn claims Odierno has confirmed an extension as unlikely.  He did no such thing.  He did not that 'right now' he doesn't seem them asking the US to stay (which may not be a hunch, he may be speaking factually -- as in, 'No one has asked us to stay right now') but he ends that section noting it's "a judgment that will have to be made later on."  He's not confirmed anything but Crazy Ass Cockburn's been lying for some time now.  (And thankfully The Cat's Blog and Media Lens have also called him out.  Everyone else is uncomfortably looking away from his very public meltdown.)   Odierno is not the only one speaking that way.  US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told NPR's Robert Siegel (All Things Considered) yesterday and Siegel brought up comments Gates made Feb. 27th (and has been making since, such as two Sundays ago on NBC's Meet the Press):
Robert Siegel: Later that day, you said, we should be prepared to have some modest sized presence for training and helping them with their new equipment providing perhaps intelligence support and so on.  Do you believe that all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011 and are you and the president on the same page here?
US Secretary of State Robert Gates:  Oh we're certainly on the same page.  The fact is is that if there are no -- if there is no new agreement with the Iraqis, there will be zero US troops in Iraq after at least 2011.  What I was alluding to is that I think it is at least possible that the Iraqis in 2011 will come and say, 'We need some logistical support, we need some intelligence support.   Can you provide us some very limited help.'  I don't know whether that will happen.  That's pure speculation on my part but the president's statement is absolutely clear and it conforms to our current committments and that is, according to the agreements we've signed, we will have everybody out of Iraq at the end of 2011.  And unless something changes that's exactly what will happen.
Meanwhile, Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi is in the news.  Waleed Ibrahim and Mohammed Abbas (Reuters) report he does not believe that Iraq can handle security tasks when the US 'combat' troops leave "but Baghdad will not ask them to stay any longer."  Now, repeating, Robert Gates is scheduled to be on Tavis Smiley (PBS) tonight.  And speaking of things scheduled, this month groups such as The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War -- are taking part in a real action. Iraq Veterans Against the War explains:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st       
As 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
Meanwhile Zoltan Grossman (ZNet) reports on COFFEE STRONG in Washignton, "outside the gates of Fort Lewis".  The GI coffeehouse "is using 21st-century outreach tools to connect with soldiers and their families, such as computers for soldiers to access the Internet without Army interference.  The historic project also started a website . . . [here] and is planning a radio web stream to connect with military personnel using music and culture."  Grossman explains:
Fort Lewis has become a national center of G.I. dissent against the Iraq War, as it was during the Vietnam War. Lieutenant Ehren Watada was tried in February 2007 for being the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq . Peace activists staged a "Citizens Hearing" tribunal to present Watada's case that the war is illegal. (His court martial ended in a mistrial, and has since won most of his legal case, but the Army has still not allowed him to resign his commission.) Other Army refusers, such as Sgt. Kevin Benderman and Spc. Suzanne Swift, have been jailed for a time in the harsh Fort Lewis stockade. G.I. Voice recently hosted a training of active-duty members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) who are organizing within the armed forces rather than seeking to leave the military.             

G.I. Voice points to a new relationship between the growing G.I. movement and the larger civilian anti-war movement. Peace groups can support and do outreach to GIs, working with Iraq War veterans who best understand best how to communicate with the younger military generation. Peace activists could also educate themselves about issues of concern to soldiers, to open respectful dialogue with G.I.s and their families, as a step to working together. The G.I. Rights Hotline (800-394-9544) is a first stop for military personnel and families wanting to explore their options.
Michael Matza (Philadelphia Inquirer) reports on Iraq War veteran Joshua Key who self-checked out of the military and ended up in Canada with his wife Brandi and their children.
His new attorney, Alyssa Manning, said his was a unique deserter's case because Canada's federal court ruled in July that the immigration board had erred. The mistake: it rejected his request for refugee status because the alleged misconduct he said he witnessed did not rise to the level of war crimes.      
The board did not need proof of war crimes to give Canada's protection to Key, the court ruled; violations of the Geneva Conventions would suffice.            
The court remanded Key's case for rehearing by a different panel in June - the first incremental victory for any of the deserters.                    
Alyssa Manning's been one of the strongest attorneys war resisters who went to Canada have had.  The decision regarding the board ignoring war crimes was handed down July 4th.  We covered it July 6th and in the July 7th snapshot.  Joshua Key wrote, with Lawrence Hill, The Deserter's Tale. In the book, Joshua writes about growing up in Oklahoma, falling in love with Brandi, struggling to make ends meet for their family, enlisting in the military after he was told that married men with children don't get sent into wars, serving in Iraq and seeing one War Crime after another, returning to the US on a pass and making the decision with Brandi to go underground.  This is from the book, page 137, when they're raiding a home in al_Habbaniyah at three in the morning.  They found six adult women, three teenage girls, no weapons and no males:
I found Private First Class Hayes with a woman under an empty carport.  He pointed his M-16 at her head but she would not stop screaming.
"What are you doing this for?" she said.
Hayes told her to shut up.
"We have done nothing to you," she went on.
Hayes was starting to lose it, and we weren't even supposed to be talking to this woman.  I told her that we were there on orders and that we couldn't speak to her, but on and on and on she bawled at Hayes and me.   
"You Americans are disgusting!  Who do you think you are, to do this to us?"  
Hayes slammed her in the face with the stock of his M-16.  She fell facedown in the dirt, bleeding and silent.  The woman lay still on the ground.  I pushed Hayes away.
"What are you doing, man?" I said to him.  "You have a wife and two kids! Don't be hitting her like that." 
He looked at me with eyes full of hatred, as if he was ready to kill me for saying those words, but he did not touch the woman again.  I found this incident with Hayes particularly disturbing because during other times I had seen him in action in Iraq, Hayes had showed himself to be one of the most levelheaded and calm soldiers in my company.  I had the sense that if he could lose it and hit a woman the way he had, any of us could lose it too.
Joshua Key is one of the many external refugees created by the Iraq War.   Meanwhile Tom A. Peters (Christian Science Monitor) reports on internally displaced refugees in Iraq noting "there are between 1.6 million and 2.8 million" and that Baghdad and Diyala have "created the largest number of IDPs".  And there are millions of external Iraqi refugees.  Collateral Repair Project is one organization providing assistance.   Anam, Ala'a and their son Mustafa left Iraq after threatening notes ("Leave Iraq or you will be killed") and after Anam's mother was murdred ("We found our mother's body cut into pieces").  Before becoming a refugee, Mohammed "was a manager in the Transportation Ministry," his son an engineer but when a local paper published a "hit-list" with Mohammed's name on it, he, his son and his wife left Iraq.  Christina and her children Sally, Osama and Marian left Iraq after attempts to kidnap Sally and attack on the children's school bus.  There is a UNHCR grant . . . for Christina.  Her husband was Egyptian.  The children were born in Iraq and their father lived there for 25 years but in the eyes of the UNHCR, the three children are not Iraqi so they will not provide any refugee money for them.  These are only some of the stories told at Collateral Repair ProjectAlex Valdes (ColorsNW) notes, "Iraqis are spreading out all over the globe in what has become the largest mass migration in the Middle East since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled their homes or were expelled after the creation of Israel in 1948.  Most Iraqis have escaped to neighboring countries: 1.5 million in Syria, 700,000 in Jordan, 70,000 in Egypt, 50,000 in Iran and 40,000 in Lebanon, according to the U.N."  Joseph Kirschke ( zooms in on Syria:
These days, Syria, along with Jordan, has more outsiders -- that is, more refugees -- per capita than any other country in the world since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. There are no official statistics -- and some estimates exceed one million -- but the toll on Syria's 18 million people is high.
The situation is grave, for the Iraqis, too, of course, as Syria "lacks the resources to adequately provide for the refugees," Amanya Michael Ebye, the Middle East Regional Director for the International Rescue Committee said last fall. And conditions "are rapidly deteriorating."
"Iraqi families are struggling with depleted savings," he added, "and they have limited access to basic services and employment."
Sadly, in many cases. refugees have even compelled their children into prostitution in order to survive. And although some Iraqi children have been allowed to attend school, only some 50,000 were reportedly enrolled as of last year.
Iran's Press TV notes that the first of the 2,500 Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan that Germany's agreed to take in will start arriving March 19th. That is a meager number as is the 10,000 the European Union has agreed to take in (of which Germany's 2.500 is part).  Deutsche Welle notes, "Last week a senior Swedish official urged other European nations to take in more Iraqi refugees, saying that Sweden will put the matter on its agenda when it assumes the six month EU presidency in July." 
Yesterday's bombing in Abu Ghraib resulted in 33 deaths.  For the White House, that meant it was time to air a new episode of Spin City.  "Well, I mean, obviously there are -- there continue to be, throughout Iraq, security challenges," insisted White House flack Robert Gibbs in yesterday's press briefing. "I think as the President enumerated in the speech that he gave at Camp Lejeune that our government and certainly our military remain strongly committed to ensuring peace and security in Iraq; continued training to give the Iraqis the opportunity and the responsibility for their own security; and that the President will continue to evaluate our policy in Iraq." You know the White House knew it was embarrassing which is why they refused to post it last night. (As of midnight EST it was still not posted. The transcript is finally up this morning.) He danced some more and would have the nation howling were they paying attention, but they aren't. As Mike pointed out last night, the same White House that denies any connection (and there may or may not be one) with yesterday's bad news would be rushing to insist a good connection had the news been good. Their spinners, not truth tellers.  Nancy A. Youssef and Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) report US "military commanders and politicitians are quietly fretting that the attacks are in response to the adminisration's plan to move out of Iraq."  The reporters note that Iraqi officials are wondering whether "their nation had gotten complacent" in the last months.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad mortar attack which left four injured, a Mosul car bombing which claimed 4 lives and left fourteen people wounded, a Mosul grenade attack which wounded three, a Kirkuk car bombing which claimed 1 life and left ten others injured and, dropping back to last night, a bombing of villages in Sulaimaniyah by Iran resulting in two people being injured and their 2-year-old being killed.
Reuters notes a Jalawla roadside bombing which left three police officers injured.
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 headless corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Lots of folks on the left, it is now apparent, no longer seek anything more than to bask in the sunshine of Barack Obama's smile. No matter how much national treasure their champion transfers to the bankster class, and despite his exceeding George W. Bush in military spending, so-called progressives for Obama continue to celebrate their imagined emergence as players in the national political saga. Having in practice foresworn resistance to Power, they relish in bashing the non-Obamite Left.
He goes on to deconstruct the latest attack from the Cult of Obama and, maybe the Cult needs to be asked that musical question, "If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?"  They really are.  The Cult is very, very sad while claiming to be very, very up and happy.  Here's Glen Ford again:
Like many of her cohorts, Burnham is quick to grant that Obama "is a steward of capitalism," but maintains that "his election has opened up the potential for substantive reform in the interests of working people and that his election to office is a democratic win worthy of being fiercely defended."       
Again, if Obama's election opened up the "potential" for reform, so would have Hillary's. They were (and remain) political brother and sister under the skin. The Obamites would be utterly helpless if unable to deploy (and abuse) the term "potential," given the actuality of Obama's presidency. Conveniently, "potential" lives in the future, where it can't be pinned down. That's why Obama's "potential" is a central theme of his Left camp followers – it allows them to claim that the opposition's critiques of their hero might harm the "potential" good he might do in the future.       
At any rate, the Obamite Left can claim no credit for Obama's progressive "potential," since they did little or nothing that might have caused him to abandon his relentless rightward drift.