Friday, March 20, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, an Abu Ghraib lawsuit can proceed, media coverage of the sixth anniversary is sparse (but out there if you hunt), things heat up in England, and more.
"It is now six years since we went into Iraq," writes Rose Gentle (UK's Military Families Against The War). "On June 28th it will be five years to the day since I lost my boy. It's a day I can't get away from. I can remember watching the news when it said that a British soldier had been killed. I looked at the TV and saw the body of a boy on the ground. No, it can't be Gordon, I thought, as I would have been told by now. But it was. Four hour later I was told it was Gordon." Gordon Gentle died June 28, 2004 at the age of 19, in a Basra roadside bombing. Rose Gentle concludes, "One day we will know why we went there and we can all make up our own minds. But as a mum I have to know now." Rose Gentle is not the only one asking for answers. Nigel Morris (Independent of London) reports Carne Ross ("formerly Britain's top Iraq specialist at the United Nations) joined the cry "for a full public inquiry into the war" yesterday. The BBC informs that Brian Jones ("former senior defense intelligence expert") "also made the case for a public inquiry and shared that before the illegal war started he had already complained about the false claims the Tony Blair government was pushing such as Iraq's supposed WMDs. Monday Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reported 72% of respondents in a new BBC survey support an inquiry into the Iraq War. BBC explained that the 18-24 years-old group supports an inquiry by 81%. Last week, government e-mails from the period leading up to the illegal war were released demonstrating that the case Tony Blair was making for war was not valid and that these bogus claims were called out by intelligence experts.
The release of those e-mails followed the February 26th declarations made by John Hutton, UK Sec of Defense, on the floor of the House of Commons:
During the final stages of the review of records of detentions, we found information about one case relating to a security operation that was conducted in February 2004, a period which honorable members I'm sure will recall saw an increased level of insurgent activity as the transfer to Iraqi sovereignty drew closer. During this operation, two individuals were captured by UK forces in and around Baghdad. They were transferred to US detention in accordance with normal practice and then moved subsequently to a US detention facility in Afghanistan. This information was brought to my attention on the first of December, 2008. And I instructed officials to investigate this case thoroughly and quickly so I could bring a full account to Parliament. Following consultations with US authorities we confirmed that they transferred these two individuals from Iraq to Afghanistan in 2004 and they remain in custody there today. I regret that it is now clear that inaccurate information on this particular issue has been given to the House by my department. I want to stress however that this was based upon the information available to ministers and those who were briefing them at the time. My predecessors as secretaries of state for defense have confirmed to me that they had no knowledge of these events. I have written to the honorable members concerned, correcting the record, and am placing a copy of these letters also in the library of the house. And again, Madame Deputy Speaker, I want to apologize to the House for these errors. The individuals transferred to Afghanistan are members of Laskar-e-Taiba, a proscribed organization with links to al Qaeda. The US government has explained to us that they were moved to Afghanistan because of a lack of relevant linguists necessary to interrogate them effectively in Iraq. The US has categorized them as unlawful enemy combatants and continues to review their status on a regular basis. We have been assured that the detainees are held in a humane, safe and secure environment meeting international standards which are consistent with cultural and religious norms and the International Committee of the Red Cross has had regular access to the detainees. A due diligence search by the US officials of the list of all those individuals captured by UK forces and transferred to US detention facilities in Iraq has confirmed that this was the only case in which individuals were subsequently transferred outside of Iraq. This review has established that officials were aware of this transfer in early 2004. It has also shown that brief references to this case were included in lengthy papers that went to then-Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary in April 2006. It is clear that the context provided did not highlight the significance at that point to my right honorable friends. In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time. We have discussed the issues surrounding this case with the US government and they have reassured us about their treatment but confirmed that, as they continue to represent significant security concerns, it is neither possible or desirable to transfer them to either their country of detention or their country of origin.
There has been no oversight or accountability with the illegal war. As this has continued to be the case, public outraged has boiled resulting in the large majority who want a full and public inquiry into the Iraq War. Gordon Gentle is one of 179 British soldiers who have died in the illegal war.
This morning, USA Today's Susan Page filled in as host on The Diane Rehm Show. Iraq was brought up in the second hour and the discussion included:
Susan Page: Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and it's interesting that looking for what stories might be on the front page today they deal more with the politics in Iraq than with the war and violence. I wonder, Michael Hirsh, at this moment, do we see the war actually coming to an end?
Michael Hirsh (Newsweek): Well I don't know if I would go quite that far but, um, but the Washington Post [click here for Anthony Shadid article Hirsh is referring to] did have did have an excellent piece on the front page this morning, summing up how new coalitions seem to be forming, cutting across sectarian lines with Prime Minister Maliki bringing some important Sunni politicians onto his side. And uh that -- it's remarkable the amount of progress that has occured.
Karen DeYoung (Washington Post): I think that it's not that it's how much violence can be -- is tolerable. You had Prime Minister Maliki last week in an interview coming back from Australia saying that he expected to ask the American troops to stay in certain places even after combat troops were supposed to withdraw and I would presume that would be around Mosul where al Qaeda is - has withdrawn too. Perhaps in Diyala. Places where you still see a relatively high level of violence. But I think the question of "Is the war over or not?" it depends on what is toleratable level and that obviously is relative to what was clearly an intolerable level before.
Yochi Dreazen (Wall St. Journal): You know statistics obviously lie and are deceptive but there are some that are really striking. One that sticks out in my mind that pertains to this is the casulty level in January. The number of troops who died in Iraq was smaller signficantly than who died in Afghanistan but also smaller significantly, unfortunately, than the number who committed suicide. So six years in, you not only have Afghanistan outstripping it but in some months military suicide outstrips the death toll in Iraq which when you think about where we were a year ago, two years ago, is a staggering change.
What? The suicide rate did not hold steady, it has climbed and climbed to the point that it is now a crisis as was admitted this week in the Congressional hearing. Yochi's first sentence sounds like the clue that he's about to use statistics that are deceptive. They also go to the fact that journalists are not social scientists and are not trained in much more than note taking. You need months and months to track a pattern. What Yochi is 'observing' may or may not be pattern. It may be a blip. But no social scientist would call it a pattern at this point. Only a general studies major would. Yochi can take comfort in the fact that something else happened that was so jaw droppingly appalling, his own sleight-of-hand with the numbers probably faded from memory quickly.
Susan Page: Talk about the treatment of US soldiers this week we had an important announcement by the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about a committment to phase out this policy of stop-loss that is so controversial. Michael Hersh tell us exactly what stop-loss is?
Michael Hirsh: Well that was a program the Bush administration put in place to extend the deployments of US soldiers beyond uh there alotted one year, two years and, uh, Gates in announcing the end of this described it basically as you know as a breach of the understanding the Defense Department had with its troops. During the worst years of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004, 5, 6 and 7 say, through that period there were, there were a lot of concerns that you might be gutting the army, that the career officers, particularly NCOs, non-coms, would start to leave because they were being asked to do more than they had in the past which was to do -- string together three overseas deployments in a row. So Gates is putting a stop to that and he's able to do it because of this draw down plan and because of the increased stability of the country.
Suddenly everyone else looks like a genius. Note to Hirsh, it is perfectly acceptable to use the sentence, "I don't know." In fact, that sentence is preferrable to, "Let me b.s. my way through an answer over the airwaves." This has nothing to do with three overseas deployments in a row. In its earliest usage in the Iraq War (and it predates George W. Bush which Hirsh also seems unaware of), it was used not to bring troops back into a theater of war but to keep them there. Camilo Mejia was in the earliest group of soldiers stop-lossed. The 'war' on 'terror' 'required' he be stop-lossed for over ten years. (That wasn't legal in any way with Camilo's case. Many issues applied and even a court that upheld stop-loss would have to address how it did not cover Camilo.) Camilo was in Iraq when he was stop-lossed. He was not home and deployed to Iraq. Where Hirsh is getting his 'information' is something only he can answer. He appears to either be pulling it out of thin air or his butt. We could continue to correct him but the program did self-correcting while broadcasting. Susan would note later in the hour (this is the second hour of today's show and about 14 minutes in) that they had gotten twitters and e-mails and she would ask Yochi Dreazen to explain stop-loss. He would note it came about after Vietnam, used in "the first Gulf War but not to the degree that it was used in the Iraq War. What it means is when you commit to serve in the US army, you typically committ to do a five or six year committment [of active service, C.I. note] so if you go in 18 you would serve out until you're 24 and then you could do whatever you wanted to do, re-enlist or leave. What stop loss does is it prevents you from leaving. So if you want to leave the Army, if you want to leave the Marine Corps, you can't the Army can keep you in some what indefinately though typically it's been six months to a year of extra service And what that means is if you want to get out of the army, you've done two tours in Iraq, your marriage is falling apart, whatever the issue, you can't do it. This is the policy John Kerry described in 2004 as a backdoor draft. because it forces you to serve when you don't want to serve." Susan Page would then note, "Secretary Gates didn't say that there would be absolutely no one effected by stop-loss but that he would restrict the number that get caught in this."
Thank you, Susan Page. All week long we've heard these lies of stop-loss is ending! It's over! Not really. Let's go first to the official announcement from the Defense Dept:
The Department of Defense announced today a comprehensive plan to eliminate the current use of Stop Loss, while retaining the authority for future use under extraordinary circumstances. This is an important step along the path in adapting the Army into an expeditionary force.
The Army Reserve and Army National Guard will mobilize units without employing Stop Loss beginning in August and September 2009, respectively. The Regular (active duty) Army will deploy its first unit without Stop Loss by January 2010.
For soldiers Stop Lossed during fiscal 2009, the department will provide a monthly payment of $500. Until the department is able to eliminate Stop Loss altogether, this payment will serve as an interim measure to help mitigate its effects.
"Stop Loss disrupts the plans of those who have served their intended obligation. As such, it is employed only when necessary to ensure minimal staffing in deploying units, when needed to ensure safe and effective unit performance," said Bill Carr, deputy under secretary of defense for military personnel policy. "It is more easily rationalized in the early stages of conflict when events are most dynamic; but tempo changes in this war have frustrated our efforts to end it altogether."
The department intends to provide Stop Loss Special Pay to eligible service members until the point of separation or retirement, to include that time spent on active duty in recovery following redeployment. Stop Loss Special Pay will begin on the date of implementation, and will take effect for those impacted on or after Oct. 1, 2008.
Stop Loss Special Pay implements the authority granted by Section 8116 of the "Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriation Act, 2009." The appropriation is available to secretaries of the military departments only to provide Special Pay during fiscal 2009.
That's Wednesday March 18th. Now let's go to what Gates said exactly about stop-loss.
Secretary Gates: Good afternoon. Today I have three major announcements to make. First, since assuming this position, I've wanted to dramatically reduce the number of soldiers who are stop-lossed. As of the end of January, there were 13,200 soldiers in stop-loss. I am pleased to announce that I have approved a plan to eliminate the use of stop-loss for deploying soldiers. Effective this August, the US Army Reserve will no longer mobilize units under stop-loss; the Army National Guard will stop doing so in September, and active Army units will cease deplying with stop-loss starting next January. Our goal is to cut the number of those stop-lossed by 50 percent by June 2010 and to eliminate the regular use of stop-loss across the entire Army by March 2011. We will retain the authority to use stop-loss under extraordinary circumstances.
And the legal definition of "extraordinary circumstances"? Thus far the courts have held that the answer to that is "the US military says so." So don't expect any end to stop-loss. We noted this nonsense Wednesday and assumed people had followed the story. Few could even get their facts right. So let's walk this through slowly. Jeff Schogol (Stars and Stripes) reported Jan. 27, 2007: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates has instructed all branches of the service to minimize the controversial 'stop-loss' program, under which U.S. troops can be involuntarily kept in the service for deployments." And how was this minimize wish (the same thing the Defense Dept wants now) received in the press? Roxana Tiron (The Hill) filed "Pentagon cuts stop-loss" January 25, 2007. What actually happened was that stop-loss was accelerated. But, hey, the headlines were so pleasing who bothered to count the numbers? Pauline Jelinek (AP) reported at that time (January 29, 2007): "Gates has asked the chief of each service branch for a plan by the end of February on how they would rely less on stop loss." I could be wrong on this but my understanding was that it was only the Army that was utilizing stop-loss -- only the army beginning in 2003. Other branches have used it since Vietnam but I'm referring to its current incarnation. Gates comments Wednesday applied only to the Army. If other branches are using it (I don't believe they are currently), Gates' speech wouldn't cover those branches.
On WAMU's Metro today, the issue of dignified transfer was addressed. David Furst explained "a new Pentagon policy allows news organizations to photograph the homecomings of fallen service members -- if families agree." He further noted that Gates declared (Wednesday) that arrangements would be made for families who wanted to be present. Kavitha Cardoza spoke with four Marines who received the fallen and their feelings were that they were a part of something honorable. General requirements include that they need to be physically fit and approximately the same height (within four inches) and training is eight hours a week. A phone call alerts them when a dignified transfer will be taking place and they report. They spoke of the process which for them includes reporting not knowing who will be arriving at Dover, walking up and seeing the coffins "on the side of the plane lined up, metal caskets with a flag over it . . . in person it's different," there's a prayer and the coffins are transferred with the Army going first. Cardoza then spoke with Furst about details she observed about the Marines handling the transfer:
". . . they were so young, you know, they just had baby faces. There was one -one man actually , he was 19. And we were interrupted a few times talking, so I lost my train of thought. And so I said, 'Where was I?' And he started laughing and said, 'Ma'am, you were telling me how young I looked'."
Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A Multi-National Divsion- Center Soldier died March 19 from non-combat related causes. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4260 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. Another death and on the sixth anniversary. This as the Seattle Times reports that next month there will be ceremonies for South Dakota's Army National Guard's 300 members who are deploying to Iraq ("for a year"). No, the Iraq War has not ended. No, the US service members have not all come home.
Saturday, those wanting to call out the illegal war can join with groups such as The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War -- all 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: www.pentagonmarch.org or www.answercoalition.org.
In addition, IVAW's Dustin Alan Parks has organized a demonstration in Fort Worth, Texas. Chris Vaughn (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) reports "the Rock Bottom Peace March" will take place "at 10 a.m. in General Worth Square in downtown Fort Worth". Kristy Kuhn (Deseret News) reports that Iraq War veterans spoke out at Salt Lake Main Library yesterday where the message was that the US is occupying Iraq and doing so for profit -- no liberation involved. Jeff Key is quoted stating, "People are getting extraordinarily rich off the blood of the soldiers." Heather Lockwood (Scripps Howard Foundation Wire) reports DC Students for a Democratic Society (DC chapter of SDS) protested last night with "loud funk music" and quotes Lehana Penaramda stating, "Basically the message is war is a waste of our youth." That was yesterday (and there were many other events) but on Wednesday the Grannies Peace Brigade stood up against the Iraq War with a demonstration in NYC. They explain what happened:
PEACE GRANNIES ARRESTED
IN TIMES SQUARE WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18
Relax, everyone! The New York City police are solidly on the job these days. With rapists, murderers, bank robbers and dope peddlers, not to mention corporate thieves, rampant throughout the City, they made a significant dent in the crime statistics yesterday, March 18, when they arrested seven grandmothers aged 67 to 90 in Times Square.
The grannies, all members of the Granny Peace Brigade, were sent to jail while protesting at the Times Square recruiting station. Their arrest occurred during what is believed to be the first antiwar protest of the Obama Administration, in an attempt to urge the President to reconsider his decision to retain 50,000 troops in Iraq after the official withdrawal scheduled to be completed in the next 18 months and his order for 17,000 more troops sent to Afghanistan. The women feel strongly that these measures will only result in increased death and destruction for Americans, Iraqis and Afghanis and further solidify anti-American feeling throughout the world. Said 94-year-old Brigadier Marie Runyon, "Peace can only be achieved through diplomacy and humanitarian aid." The Granny Peace Brigade women are mostly strong supporters of Barack Obama but were responding to his request that his constituency pressure him to do the right thing when they feel he is on the wrong path.
The Brigade is not new to demonstrating at the Times Square recruiting station -- eighteen of the grannies were arrested and jailed on Oct. 17, 2005, when they attempted to enlist in the military to replace America's grandchildren in harm's way in Iraq. After a six-day trial in criminal court, they were acquitted.
The seven grannies were arrested at approximately 1:45 p.m. and taken to the Midtown South police precinct. They were not all released until early the next morning, a total of approximately 12 hours. Some of them became shaky and weak after many hours of not eating, but were given no food for another hour and a half.
Prior to the arrest, about 50 grannies and their supporters gathered on Military Island at which a press conference was held including speeches by mayoral candidate Rev. Billy, legendary Broadway actress and activist Vinie Burrows (one of the original 18 granny jailbirds), and a young member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Matthis Chiroux. A sister group, the Raging Grannies, performed some of their original anti-war songs.
During the press conference, grandmothers wrapped yellow police crime scene tape around the ramp near the recruiting center, after which a group, some in wheelchairs and hanging on to walkers, assembled on the ramp leading to the center.
The team of Norman Siegel and Earl Ward, who successfully defended the grannies in 2005, will represent them in their current case, for which the grandmothers are profoundly grateful. Siegel, currently a candidate for New York City Public Advocate, is a favorite of the ladies for his continuous support of them.
Matthis also took part in an action in NYC yesterday. Jennifer Mascia and Jason Grant (NYT online) quote him explaining, "Obama's policies just confirmed to me that the president may hvae changed, but the war is the same. Just because we have a black president now, doesn't mean that we don't have a racist war."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the illegal war has created a refugee crisis number over four million internal and external refugees. That estimate does not include a group of Iranian refugees who have been in Iraq since long before the start of the illegal war. Mohammed Abbas (Reuters) reports that these refugees, the People's Mujahideen of Iran, find themselves unwelcomed by the new Shi'ite controlled government "which has mostly warm times with neighbouring Shi'ite Iran" and that al-Maliki's government is now asking that other countreis take them in, "Human rights groups say forcing the 3,500 PMOI members out of their base at Camp Ashraf in northeastern Iraq would violate international law." Iran's Press TV notes, "Iran has long called for the expulsion of MKO members from their headquarters and training center, Camp Ashraf, in Iraq. Tehran says the members of the group who do not have blood on their hands are allowed to return home but others have to stand trial in Iran." Meanwhile, in England, a protest is taking place. Aidan Jones (London Informer) reports that the country's Iraqi Embassy is the site of a protest by exiles in England who are calling for the refugee camp in Iraq to remain open. One protestor, Fatemeh, is quoted stating, "The Iraqis say they want to close the camp. If they close it thousands of people will be sent back to Iran where they will certainly face jail, if not death because the government there sees them as traitors." Al Arabiya News adds, "In 2001 the group renounced violence paving the way for the European Court of First Instance to rule in Dec. 12, 2006 against the inclusion of PMOI on the European Union's 'terrorist list'." At present, the US lists the group as a terrorist organization. The listing may or may not change under the Barack Obama administration. At present, these refugees have been protected by US forces. Actions taken in the last year (especially at the end of the year) have made it clear that without US protection, the refugee camp would have turned into a slaughterhouse. Whether or countries will take them in or not, the issue must be addressed while the US is present. Most issues should (my opinion) be decided by Iraqis because it is their country. The decisions of their puppet government and of the ones launching attacks on the camp are the Iranian refugees must go. The US (and the State Dept knows this) must faciliate the next moves because the US military has been the only thing keeping the refugees alive. The George W. Bush administration allowed this situation to fester and refused to address it. It exploded after the 2008 election and Barack Obama's administration has been attempting to figure out viable options to address the safety concerns of these refugees. This is a problem that was dumped on the current administration. I am not a rescuer of Barack Obama. I have no problem holding him or his administration accountable. However, this is a problem that the State Dept was aware was boiling and about to explode and they were aware of that as early as June of last year. The then-administration refused to deal with it even when it was raised in talks about the Status Of Forces Agreement and the Security Agreement all last year and two months of 2007. They knew this was going to explode and it did after the election. It did not concern them and they did nothing -- not even casual exchanges -- on this issue.
The previous US administration also did a hideous job of assisting external Iraqi refugees. That includes limiting the target numbers of Iraqi refugees who could be admitted to this country to a tiny, insulting number and still being unable to meet that target most years. Whether the current administration will do better on admitting Iraqi refugees to the US or not is an unknown at this point. (And if they stick to fiscal year figures, as the Bush administration did, they will be stuck with October, November and December of 2008 when Barack was not in the White House.) What is known is that today the US State Dept announced that for 2009 fiscal year, $141 million dollars are being added to the $9 million already promised. The State Dept states the money will go to funding:
The bulk of the money is to go to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In May of last year, UNHCR noted they were $127 million short on money needed to assist the internal and external Iraqi refugees.
Today Xinhua reports that the US bombed homes in Diyala Province last night and killed at least "13 suspected militants". Turning to other reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad roadside bombings which left three people wounded and a suicide bomber in Anbar Province who apparently "tried to attack Sheikh Hasnawi Efan" -- he was shot dead by police but a grenade the bomber tossed claimed the life of 1 police officer and left two more wounded. Reuters notes Thursday events -- "fierces clashes" in which the 10 people were shot dead in Baquba and a Ramadi roadside bombing which left three people injured.
In legal news, Bill Mears (CNN) reports that US District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee has allowed a lawsuit against CACI over the torture at Abu Ghraib with 4 Iraqis stating that contractors took part in the torture "subjected them to beatings and mental abuse, then destroyed documents and video evidence and later misled officials about what was happening inside the facility." The Center for Constitutional Rights notes:
The plaintiffs are Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid, Sa'ad Hamza Hantoosh AI-Zuba'e and Salah Hasan Usaif Jasim Al-Ejaili – all of whom are Iraqi citizens who were released from Abu Ghraib between 2004 and 2008 without being charged with any crime.
The former detainees are represented by attorneys Susan L. Burke, William T. O'Neil and William F. Gould of Burke O'Neil LLC, of Washington, D.C.; Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Shereef Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, PLC, of Troy, Mich.
The lawsuit alleges that the CACI defendants not only participated in physical and mental abuse of the detainees, but also destroyed documents, videos and photographs; prevented the reporting of the torture and abuse to the International Committee of the Red Cross; hid detainees and other prisoners from the International Committee of the Red Cross; and misled non-conspiring military and government officials about the state of affairs at the Iraq prisons.
The sixth anniversary took place and where was the coverage? Reduced to a daily headline by Amy Goodman. (No, I haven't forgotten her, Ava and I address Pravda on the Hudson this weekend.) Some did file reports yesterday. "It's so deadly now for U.S. troops," Lara Logan reported on The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric yesterday (link has video and text), "that even rebuilding work has to be done at night. U.S. engineers work in the dark to repair a bridge that was blown up by terrorists." She was reporting from Mosul and, no, that doesn't sound like the Iraq War is ending. But that report didn't make it on ABC or NBC so those watching their evening broadcasts were fed 'comfort food' passed off as news. That was only one of the disturbing bits of reality Logan offered. Another was this, "What you can't see in Mosul are the Iraqi soldiers who captured the suspect and then handed him over to their U.S. counterparts. They asked not to be identified, for fear of being killed." The Iraqi soldiers are scared to be seen on camera. For fear of being killed.
And the spin is supposed to be "Iraq War Over, Rejoice!" It's an important report and Mosul overtook Baghdad for violence last year though few bothered to notice. (That does not mean things turned to milk & honey in Baghdad. It means Mosul grew ever more violent.) Along with CBS Evening News, the only other broadcast news to offer Iraq coverage was PBS. The NewsHour's Ray Suarez moderated an Iraq roundtable (link has text and audio):
RAY SUAREZ: Let's go to some of our viewer questions. Armeney writes from Okemos, Mich.: "What's the probability that Shiite-Sunni strains will reemerge when the Americans downsize their forces? Will al-Qaeda in Iraq prey upon Sunni discontent to strike back at the Shiite government?" Ambassador, why don't you take that first?
FEISTAL ISTRABADI: Well, I mean, you know, this of course is the $64,000 question. I don't think any serious observer of the Iraqi security and armed forces believe that they're going to be ready in June of this year or by the end of next year to provide security in Iraq. And what happens when the Americans withdraw?
If I can comment on what was said a moment ago about Maliki taking on the militias in Basra; what he has done is taken on the Jaish al-Mahdi, the Sadrists - what we often call the Sadrist militia in Basra and in Baghdad. He has not yet taken on the militia of his principal coalition partner, in Baghdad, that is to say the militia of the Supreme Council - the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Badr brigade. And it's not clear that he can because much of the security forces are in the hands of the Badr brigade militia hierarchy.
So we don't really have a taking on of militias in Iraq. What we have is a choosing of which militias are going to be in ascendancy in Iraq. And this is a real problem.
When American forces start to withdraw, if you still have several militias intact, which can get back to the business of slaughtering the other side's civilians, which is what we had in 2006 and 2007 - and that's my real fear for the future of Iraq in the immediate post-withdrawal.
For the record, disarming the militias? Also a benchmark. For those playing on the home editions, that would be benchmark seven (disarming) and benchmark thirteen was ensuring that the militias do not have "control of local security." And these benchmarks? They are not supposed to be 'near' them today. The 'surge' was done to create the political space for the 18 benchmarks to be achieved. All of the 18 were supposed to have been achieved before January 1st. They were not. That is why the 'surge' was a failure.
Others reporting on the Iraq War included Iraq War milestones and Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports an 11.2% rate of unemployment "for veterans who served in Iraq and and Afghanistan and who are 18 and older" which may impact the Army's current re-enlistment goal have reached 152%. Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) spoke with three people about the Iraq War, we'll note this section:
When Ms. Naar-Obed returned from Iraq in 2004, she brought with her news that would shake America and the world -- reports from Iraqis of abuse in the US detention facility in Abu Ghraib.
"My hope was that whatever pressure I could bring to bear, either [in Iraq] or by speaking out about it when I was back home, would help put an end to the abuses we were hearing about," says Naar-Obed, who has spent several months of every year since 2002 in Iraq.
Once again in Iraq, Naar-Obed is impressed not by any progress she sees, but by the challenges Iraq still faces. Iraq's sectarian tensions eased when ethnic cleansing led to migration and segregation. But the underlying tensions among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds remain.
"There may be a current marked reduction in violent acts [because of the new segregation of sectarian populations], but there has been little in the way of political or personal reconciliation," she says by phone and e-mail.
Currently in the Kurdish north, she says she senses "great fear and concern about what will happen when the walls that physically separate people come down, and when the forces that keep those walls erected leave."
Aamer Madhani (USA Today) speaks with Azher Amin, who is a steel fabricator in Iraq, and is told, "Right now, things in Iraq are 70% good and 30% bad, which is much better than it was just two years ago. But if the Americans leave too quickly, the siutation will reverse itself. I don't think anyone -- Iraqi or American -- believes realistically that by 2012 our army will be good enough to protect the people internally or to secure our borders."
NOW on PBS looks at the economy heading to Nevada where "the only public hospital in Las Vegas had to shut its doors to cancer patients and pregnant women." Dr. Howard Dean is a guest on the program. Washington Week also focuses on the economy and Gwen sits down with Jackie Calmes (New York Times), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), Alexis Simendinger (National Journal) and Pierre Thomas (ABC News). Bill Moyers Journal offers Socialist historian Mike Davis (who will hopefully speak of more than the economy), a segment billed as "American Dissidents: Against the Tide, From Thomas Paine to Ralph Nader" (and we may crucify this, Ava and I, on Sunday -- Ralph? Ralph whom Bill couldn't have on throughout 2008 when he was running for president?) and Marta Pelaez of Family Violence Prevention Services. Will Bill's commentary this week note the illegal war or will he be one more voice of silence? Tune in tonight. (Or catch it online -- transcript, audio and video are the options and Moyers' program is the only PBS one that strives to serve all segments online.)
All three begin airing on most PBS stations tonight. Moving over to commercial broadcast TV, Sunday, on CBS' 60 Minutes:
The president discusses the most pressing issues of his first two months in office, including the economy, the bailouts, his budget and America's involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Steve Kroft will talk to Barack Obama in the Oval Office for the interview, expected to be longer than any other he has granted.
Mr. Ayers And Mr. Lopez
Discovered living on the streets by Los Angeles Times newspaper columnist Steve Lopez, mentally ill musician Nathaniel Ayers has become the subject of a book by Lopez and now a Hollywood film. Morley Safer reports. | Watch Video
iraq veterans against the war
military families speak out
veterans for peace
the new york times
the washington post