Tuesday, March 24, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the "Awakening"s rise in news coverage (only in news coverage -- remember they don't act unless they get paid), more on the protests over the weekend, Turkey and Iraq attempt to meet up but barriers continue, and more.
Yesterday we noted some of the protests taking place over the weekend. Cindy Sheehan was quoted from Fresno reports and Cindy Sheehan now has a new website. Indybay IMC has photos of the Fresno actions and audio. The audio includes Raging Grannies performing and Cindy Sheehan's speech.
Cindy Sheehan: We have marched thousands of miles. We've signed so many petitions. We've called Congress 'till our fingers bled. I'm just using hyperbole -- I don't think anybody's fingers really bled. Some of us even ran for Congress to try and make a difference [applause] but you know we had a change in regime in November and that, that's not even helping. You know President Obama has said you know if you're an Obama supporter or not an Obama supporter, I myself voted for Cynthia McKinney -- [applause] yea Cynthia! His foreign policy is abomidable. You know he is only following the Bush Status Of Force Agreement in Iraq that Bush negotiated before he left office with the Maliki government. Even his slow 16-month withdrawal has been extended. And troops are never going to come home from Iraq. You know everybody when McCain said if the troops would be in Iraq for 100 years, he wasn't kidding. Even -- even Obama's just bringing out what he calls combat troops. I'm moving back here, I really don't want to get electrocuted. And he's increasing or 'surging' Afghanistan -- sending more troops there. You don't know how many people e-mail me saying Cindy, you have to tell the president not to send more troops to Afghanistan. And I'm like, "Why are you e-mailing me? Presidents never listen to me." So. But, well, Obama has to know that that's going to be a disaster. Obama knows that that's going to be a disaster. Anybody that has ever gone into Afghanistan has limped out with their empire crumbled. And I think the US empire needs to crumble. I'm all for that. But it should not have to crumble on the heads of the Afghan people, or our soldiers or the families of our soldiers. And not only is our empire -- our military empire crumbling, so is our economic empire and that's effecting each and everyone of us. It's not effecting the AIG executives. It's not effecting the Wall St. robber barons. It's effecting us. It's not effecting Congress, they gave themselves a raise. Congress has 110% health insurance. They're covered 110%. How come we can't get that kind of health insurance? They're our employees. So what would be a better way to have the empire crumble besides it crumbling on innocent people? That would be for President Barack Obama to courageously get up and say, "Today I am declaring an end to the war on terror. I am saying that we have" -- I don't even care if he wants to say that we won. He can say, "I'm declaring victory, we won, I'm bringing our troops home. And not only that but we are going to close most of the 775 bases that we have around the world. And we're going to reduce our military to a size that is for defensive purposes only, not for the size that can spread corporate imperialism around the world. And we're going to use that money we're going to save on the empire and we're going to give everybody that wants to go to college a free education." Not a $2,500 a year tax credit. That -- you know, my daughter goes to San Francisco State. That would only pay for a third of her education. And you know what? To get it she's going to have to do community service. Now I'm all for community service but why do the kids of the robbed class have to do it to not even get their education paid for but the robber class they can afford to send their kids to Yale and Harvard and Stanford and USC. I went to UCLA, so I don't even know why anyone would want to go to USC. But they don't have to do community service. They should do community service and our kids should too but you shouldn't hold our kids education hostage to that. Our kids have the right to go to college too! Our kids have that. It's a basic human right for education. You know what? Many countries have free university education. Cuba has free university education. Cuba has free health care for everybody who lives there. Everybody in Cuba has a roof over their heads. It might not be a mansion, but it's a roof and they can keep themselves dry -- which is relevant today.
Yesterday's snapshot noted KITV's coverage of the weekend protest in Sioux City. My apologies because the link did not work. Click here to see the story. Thursday also saw actions. World Can't Wait reports on Thursday's action in NYC:
The afternoon began around 1pm in Union Square. Under gray skies and a light rain, about 50 people crowded near the subway entrance in the south end of the square, as [Debra] Sweet and Matthis Chiroux -- a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who refused to fight in Iraq -- together emceed a rally that preceded a march to the Times Square recruiting center. A group of youth held a large white banner with black letters that said,"You Can't Win An Occupation." Others held orange signs demanding "Stop Occupations and Torture for Empire! The World Can't Wait!"
Among the speakers, performers, and participants at the rally, there was a spirit of defiance, resilience, and moral responsibility. Before performing "Nakba," an angry condemnation of Israel's history of genocide and persecution against the Palestinians, 24-year-old rapper Marcel Cartier told the crowd that he had recently renounced his status as an "army brat."
"They didn't get me," Cartier said. "But I lived my entire life around the U.S. military until last year."
Cartier said he "ruptured" with the military life after deciding he didn't want to spend the rest of his days as an accomplice to crimes against humanity.
In addition to Cartier, other musical performers included the Bronx hip-hop group Rebel Diaz, and Outernational, which adjusted well to the lack of amplified sound by playing a stirring acoustic set.
Radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who in the past few years has felt the repressive force of the government very directly -- in 2006 she was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and obstruction of justice merely for passing a message from one of her clients to his supporters -- told demonstrators she would not be deterred in resisting the crimes of empire and that they shouldn't be either.
"I think we have to ask ourselves, is Obama running out of his Kool Aid? Yes!" Stewart said at the beginning of her speech. "Are we alive and kicking? Yes!"
Sunsara Taylor, a writer for Revolution newspaper, said a great number of people in society are under the illusion that Obama will end wars for empire, despite his continuation of the occupation in Iraq, his escalation of the Afghanistan war, his intensifying of missile strikes in Pakistan, and his support for the Israeli massacre of Gaza.
"The only way this occupation and these wars are going to end," Taylor said, "is through protest, through resistance, through people taking a stand like we're doing today. Actually going and challenging other people to wake up and act on 'What kind of future do you want to live in?'"
In her speech, Taylor took on some of the key arguments that are used to justify U.S. wars for empire. For instance, in response to the notion that these wars make Americans safer, Taylor said this reasoning is not only false but also unethical.
"It is immoral to say that American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives, are worth more than Afghani lives," Taylor said. "A million dead in Iraq, I don't care if it did make us safer. It's not worth it. It is immoral, it is unjust, and it has to be opposed."
Taylor also slammed the idea that the U.S. military is trying to liberate the women of Iraq and Afghanistan; she pointed out that Iraq was a secular country prior to the U.S. occupation; it is now a theocracy where a man can hire someone for $100 to carry out an "honor killing" against his wife or daughter.
World Can't Wait was one of the sponsors of the March on the Pentagon Saturday in DC. A.N.S.W.E.R. was another and they have photos up and a report which includes:
The Arlington County Police mobilized in full riot gear in an attempt to block the demonstrators from delivering symbolic coffins at the doorsteps of the war corporations. They brought tear gas, snarling dogs and pointed guns loaded with rubber bullets directly at demonstrators. The Arlington County Police also put out an absurdly low count of the demonstration, which was more than 10,000 people.
In Los Angeles, a simultaneous demonstration drew 4,000 people, which culminated with a dramatic die-in at the Kodak Theater. Another 4,000 demonstrated in San Francisco, where police carried out violent attacks on demonstrators and arrested numerous people.
"This is the launch of the anti-war movement in the post-Bush era. Bush is gone, but the occupation of Iraq continues, the war in Afghanistan is escalating, and the people of Palestine are living under a state of siege," stated Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.
And we'll ignore the fluff radio report from reporters who don't understand that you report what happens. Not what you believe will happen. Not what you hope will happen. You report what happened. If you are 'reporting' on something from next month, next year or later, you are not reporting. You are predicting unless you use verbs such as "claims". A lot of self-righteous beggars in Panhandle Media, so quick to castigate Big Media, never learned the basics. We'll be kind and let it go at that.
"Visits abroad by heads of state are different to those by heads of government," editorializes Arab News. "They are a symbolic endorsement of good relations between countries; prime ministerial visits are about the nitty-gritty of politics -- trade, military agreement, and foreign policy decisions. This as true for Turkey as any other country. The visit to Iraq by its president, Abdullah Gul, is therefore something of a landmark. No Turkish head of state has visited Baghdad in over 30 years, although Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan was there for talks with his Iraqi counterpart Nuri Al-Maliki last July." And Iraqi President Jalal Talabani visited Ankara last year. The last visit to Iraq for a Turkish president was in 1976 by Fahri Koruturk. The Turkish Press notes that the visit "was postponed for a year-nad-a-half." Anthony Shadid and K.I. Ibrahim (Washington Post) note that "Gul was welcomed at Baghdad International Airport by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and other officials in a visit that included talks with Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki." Gul met with al-Maliki and Iraq's President Jalal Talabani on Monday. He went on to meet with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani today.
Gulf Daily News zooms in on a statement by Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, yesterday, "The PKK has two choices: lay down its guns or leave Iraq." That statement may seem to carry a level of weight due to Talabani's position but not only is he weakened in the Kurdistan Regional Government itself (his party's struggling) but he's also announced he will not seek re-election when his term expires (at the end of the year -- assuming elections are held in December). Hurriyet observes, "Turkey expects important results to emerge from the visit, Gul had said ahead of his arrival in Baghad for meetings likely to focus on the terrorist PKK organization." AP reports PKK spokesperson Ahmad Deniz has declared Talabani "doesn't have the authority or the will to utter such words and we don't take orders from him" and went on to warn of "grave consequences" for Talabani. The visit was not without controversy. One example noted by Hurriyet for the controversy erupting over Gul referring to the "Kurdistan regional administration" which makes him "the first Turkish official to define the northern Iraqi administration as 'Kurdistan'." It is of issue because Kurds in Turkey want an autonomous region and the PKK -- which Talabani was condemning -- is a Kurdish group of fighters whose goal is to carve out an indepenent region for Turkish Kurds. Gul's remarks are controversial for that reason since some in Turkey have long feared that just the existence of the KRG fuels a push for an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey. Hurriyet quotes Gul responding to the controversy by asking, "What should I say? We do not refuse to say Macedonia because Greece rejects to do so. This is written in the (Iraqi) constitution. This is a fact that those in northern Iraq should calculate the possible outcome of losing Turkey."
That wasn't the end of the waves. Hurriyet notes Nechirvan Barzani stated Turkey should offer amnesty to PKK members, that "it would be very helpful in solving the problem. We support this." But Gul replied amnesty "is an issue for Turkey alone. We do not debate it with others." Paul De Bendern (Reuters) quotes Gul stating he told Barzani "explicity that the PKK terrorist organisation and their camps . . . in your region (and) you need to take a clear position against them. Once the PKK is eliminated there are no bounds to what is possible: you are our nieghbours and kinsman." Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) hails the visit for its 'great significance as a sign of warming relations based on mutual needs" and notes "Gul was accompanied by his state minister responsible for exports on the Iraqi tour, a sign that reflects the importance of boosting bilateral trade." KUNA notes Kursad Tuzman, Turkish Minister of State for Foreign Trade, declared Sunday "that exports to Iraq" from Turkey "have leaped by 70 percent in the last two months, supported by the improving relations between the countries." Hurriyet notes Gul declared today that Iraqi energy sources will be tranferred to others via Turkey.
While some diplomatic movement may be going on, the Parliament remains at a standstill. Alsumaria reports: "Accordance Front spokesman Salim Abdullah told Alsumaria that the federal court delayed the decision about the legitimacy of Accordance Front candidate Iyad Al Samirrai for Parliament Speaker, till April 8." Dropping back to the Jan. 12th snapshot:
Willam Brockman Bankhead was the Speaker of the US House of Representatives for over four years. He died unexpectably of a heart attack on September 15, 1940. (For those unfamiliar with Bankhead, he was the father of Tallulah Bankhead.) The following day, Sam Rayburn became Speaker of the House. The following day. December 23rd, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani was forced out of the Speakership of the Iraqi Parliament. The week prior he had stated he was resigning. He attempted to take that back but a large number wanted him gone as Speaker and had wanted him gone for some time with repeated public efforts to oust him.
al-Mashhadani was forced out of his position. No one forced Parliament to give him the shove. They made the decision and that was three months ago. Today the announcement was made that they'd delay any decision until April. The Parliament has no speaker. When the US House of Representative was without a Speaker due to an unexpected death in 1940, there was a new speaker in less than 24 hours. There is no political movement in Iraq. A point US Vice President Joe Biden made leading Nouri al-Maliki to attack Biden verbally. As Biden noted last year, "The purpose of the surge was to bring violence down so that Iraq's leaders could come together politically. Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together. Our military played an important role in the violence. So did three other developments. First, the Sunni Awakening, which preceded the surge. Second, the Sadr cease-fire. Third, sectarian cleansing that left much of Baghdad segregated, with fewer targets to shoot or bomb. These tactical gains are relative. Violence is now where it was in 2005 and spiking up again. Iraq is still incredibly dangerous and, despite what the President says, very far from normal. And these gains are fragile. Awakening members frustrated at the government's refusal to integrate them into the national security forces could turn their guns back on us. Sadr could end his cease-fire at a moment's notice. Sectarian chaos could resume with the next bomb. Most important, the strategic purpose of the surge has not been realized: genuine political power sharing that gives Iraq's factions to pursue their interests peacefully." True last April, true today. al-Maliki can hiss and stomp his feet all he wants. There is no political motion. There's not a great deal of forward motion at all.
For example, the "Awakenings." Since October of last year, we're all supposed to gather around the potty and cheer on Nouri al-Maliki every few weeks. "You can do it, Nouri! You're a big boy!" Despite the nonstop praise for his taking over the "Awakening" Councils -- nearly 100,000 males (Daughters of Iraq are not included in the count) which cost the US tax payer $300 a month -- he's still not done so. When all were on the US payroll, that was $18 to 27 million a month. The US may be paying as much as $12 million a month currently. Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin (New York Times) pulled toilet training duty and tried to be encouraging to Nouri by declaring it "another milestone" because only 10,000 of the "Awakenings" have not yet been turned over. Hey, wasn't the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement supposed to make Iraq 'independent' and 'sovereign'? Funny how everything that indicates otherwise is swept aside or minimized.
But while Nouri sits on the big boy potty and basks in the applause, turns out everyone's not so happy -- or as Nordland and Rubin put it, "the militiamen themselves were not celebrating." Party poopers!
So what has them upset? That Nouri's doing what he always said he would. He's not bringing them in. This isn't news. US Senator Barbara Boxer was referring to Nouri's attitude and position re: Awakenings in an opening Senate hearing last April. Was anyone paying attention?
Nordland and Rubin report:
These are among the signs that the fighters' patience is fraying badly at a difficult moment. After months of promises, only 5,000 Awakening members -- just over 5 percent -- have been given permanent jobs in the Iraqi security forces. Those promises were made last year when Iraq was flush with oil money.
To no one's surprise, the issue of Iraq's shortfall -- which isn't that large compared to the problems countries around the world are having with their budgets -- is given as a reason. Nonsense. Nouri didn't want them. Boxer was quoting from the European press back in April, from interviews Nouri was giving, where he was making it very clear that about, yes, 5% would be allowed to work for the government and no more.
For those who are late to the party, the "Awakening" Council are Sunni thugs. The US put them on the payroll and armed and trained them. As US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen David Petraeus told Congress repeatedly in April, the thugs were put on the payroll because, if the US paid them, then they wouldn't attack the US or kill US service members. Yes, that would be known as extortion in the rational world but we don't live in a rational world and, over and over, for several days, Crocker and Petraeus bragged about this we-forked-over-our-lunch-money-on-the-playground 'strategy' and were never questioned on it. Example, April 4, 2008, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts."
And, yes, this is what some are pushing for the US to do in Afghanistan. Once upon a time, the US declared wars and fought another side. Now, like spoiled playboys?, they instead declare a war and then try to bribe the other side.
For those wondering, Nouri's objections were not ethically-based. He had no problem with thugs -- he's staffed his ministries (especially the Ministry of the Interior) with nothing but thugs. But Nouri likes his thugs to be Shi'ites and not Sunnis. April 2, 2008, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Boxer and Stephen Biddle:
Barbara Boxer: Did you just say that Maliki uses the Iraqi security forces as his militia? Did you say that?
Barbara Boxer: If that's true and Maliki uses his military as a force to bring about peace -- that's scandalous and that we would have paid $20 million to train [it] and someone that we consider an expert says it's a militia, that's shocking.
This is what then-Senator Joe Biden was getting it when he explained last year that the US had armed and paid both sides of a civil conflict and you couldn't pretend that there was a functioning government in Iraq. There's still no functioning government. The April 10, 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee discussed agreements the then-administration was attempting to make with al-Maliki. The then-proposed agreements would require the US "to take sides in Iraq's civil war," Biden noted, and "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be in place a year from now -- half the government has walked out. . . . Just understand my frustration. We want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist." At the same hearing, Senator Russ Feingold explained how al-Maliki's government didn't represent a "true coalition." With all that from a year ago, the events of today are not at all surprising. The "Awakenings" clearly aren't being absorbed into his al-Maliki's government -- as al-Maliki always said they wouldn't be.
At the end of their article Nordland and Rubin talk about some "Awakenings" ("in Diyala and Baghdad") that are supposed to be paid by Nouri not getting paid. They fail to make clear who is paying them or others and it is an issue. Let's drop back to the April 4, 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Senator Barbara Boxer raised issues:
She then turned to the issue of monies and the militias, "You are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias and, by the way, I have an article here that says Maliki recently told a London paper that he was concerned about half of them" and wouldn't put them into the forces because he doubts their loyalty. She noted that $182 million a year was being paid, $18 million a month, to these "Awakening" Council members and "why don't you ask the Iraqis to pay the entire cost of that progam" because as Senator Lugar pointed out, "It could be an opportunity" for the Iraqi government "to turn it into something more long term." This is a point, she declared, that she intends to bring up when it's time to vote on the next spending supplamental. Crocker tried to split hairs.
Boxer: I asked you why they couldn't pay for it. . . . I don't want to argue a point. . . I'm just asking you why we would object to asking them to pay for that entire program giving all that we are giving them in blood and everything else?
Crocker declared that he'd take that point back to Iraq when he returned.
Until Barbara Boxer raised the issue last April, Crocker and Petraeus apparently never considered asking al-Maliki's government to pay for the "Awakenings" (that's by Crocker and Peteraus' own words to Congress). After Boxer raised the issue and others in Congress expressed their outrage, the issue was supposed to have been dealt with; however, the US continues to pay them. The US just made payment to many at the start of this month. The hope is that the start of next month (mere days away) will find al-Maliki picking up the slack.
But that may not happen. Rubin and Nordland have written a very strong article; however, it sidesteps the issue of payment and that's a glaring omission from the paper whose chief Baghdad correspondent in the early days of the Iraq War bragged publicly that he tailored his coverage for US tax payers. Saturday Tim Cocks (Reuters) reported the US military was promissing the rest of the turnover would take place "in the coming months" and he noted that approximately 40,000 "Awakening"s are still not on al-Maliki's payroll. Who's paying them? (The US.) For how long?
Let's move for a second to an area that is showing some movement. As usual it's tied to the only body with any movement, Iraq's Foreign Ministry announces that March 16th will start a a training for Iraqi Judges and officers in Germany. This training is being carried out under a joint-program with the European Union. Meanwhile Paris and Baghdad are talking . . . about defense. Alsumaria reports Abdul Qader Al Ubaidi, Defense Minister, is heading to Paris and will meet tomorrow with Herve Morin, France's Defense Minister. The term being bandied about is "defense cooperation." And that apparently includes the training of security forces which Alsumaria also reports will be carried out "mainly" by France according to Interior Minister and Head Thug Jawad Al Bolani. "Defense" costs money. (Actual defense would presumably require them ridding themselves of the British and American forces still occupying their country -- but it's only a puppet government after all.) Alsumaria reports that the puppet still has some big-money love for their puppet master which is why they have "requested an additional 140 Abrams tanks on top of the 140 it has already ordered under a deal signed last year." 280 new tanks. For a country that Republicans like to constantly say is 'about the size of California'? Well if you were al-Maliki -- already sitting on billions of Iraq's dollars -- and you knew you were just a puppet, you'd stockpile too. Amazingly when such orders are placed, no one ever stops to ask, "Why does al-Maliki have money for this but not . . ." Whatever. Such as paying the "Awakening" Councils. Why is that?
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 Baghdad roadside bombing which left three wounded, another which left two wounded, and, dropping back to last night, a Mosul roadside bombing which resulted in two people being injured,
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report 1 man shot dead in Haditha -- he had been "released from Bucca prison in Basra two days ago".
Dropping back to yesterday's bombing in northern Iraq, Time magazine's Rania Abouzeid also sees the bombing as a statement on Kurdish and Shi'ite tensions
In recent months, longstanding hostility between the two communities has escalated, whipped up by resurgent Arab secular nationalism. At the federal level, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly said he wants to strengthen Baghdad's hand at the expense of Iraq's 18 provinces, including Kurdistan -- the semi-autonomous three-province Kurdish region in the north -- much to the chagrin of the federalist-minded Kurds. At the provincial level, newly empowered hard-line Sunni groups like Al-Hadba in Mosul, Nineveh's capital, are readying to expand their political clout. (See a photographer's diary of the Iraq conflict.)
Al-Hadba won 19 of the provincial council's 37 seats during elections in January, running on an anti-Kurdish platform in the volatile, still-violent, mixed but predominantly Sunni province. Its victory was a realignment of power away from the minority Kurds who held disproportionate sway due to a Sunni electoral boycott in 2005. However, it has also set the stage for a showdown between the two groups. (Read an analysis of Iraq's future.)
Independent journalist David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). Bacon covers the a homeless camp that has sprung up in Sacramento and here's an excerpt (click here to read it in full at Immigration Prof Blog):
On one side of the American River in downtown Sacramento, foundations and media organizations have comfortable offices with views of the water. On the other side, a homeless camp sits beside the railroad tracks next to the huge Blue Diamond almond processing plant. A biking and jogging trail winds past the camp, and over the bridge crossing the river. Runners and bicyclists in spandex and shorts pass by, hardly noticing the hundreds of people living in tents, under makeshift tarps, or simply sleeping on the ground. This community has mushroomed in the last few months as the economic crisis puts people out of homes and jobs, onto the streets, or in this case, into a field.
the world can't wait
the new york times
alissa j. rubin
the washington post