Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Shifting sands in Iraq

Iraq actually makes the front page of the New York Times today (a rarity) via Alissa J. Rubin's "Iraqi Militants Show New Boldness" which documents the currently shifting sands. It's a strongly written article and although I was referring to news value, it's also strongly written stylistically: "A recent series of attacks, however, like bubbles that indicate fish beneath still water, suggest the potential danger, all the more perilous now because the American troops who helped to pacify Iraq are leaving."

She sketches out the recent violence and the possible meanings very well but we'll grab from other things for that and instead zoom in on some of the news she's reporting that's not in other reports (or highlighted from her article elsewhere). She notes a new weapon being utilized, RKG-3 grenades which "weigh just five pounds and, attached to parachutes, can be lobbed by a teenager but can penetrate the American military's latest heavily armored vehicle, the MRAP." Rubin notes these inexpensive weapons cost $10 a piece.

Not in the article, this is me, is the fact that the American military has long laughed at the mortar attacks. The mortar attacks are not precise and rarely cause alarm. (Troops stationed inside the Green Zone have been injured by mortar attacks. An attack that wounded Australian troops several years ago stands out. However, the attack that frightened the US military, the attack on the Green Zone, was the 2006 late spring attack which wasn't mortars but an attempt to storm the Green Zone -- this led to the first in a series of al-Maliki's 'crack downs'.) If more precise than the mortarts, the RKG-3s could become a serious source of concern. (Which is why we're noting it. I'm not interested in doing war pornography on all the gadgets.)

Rubin's article contains a wide range of voices -- Iraqi officials, American officials, "Awakenings," etc. One unnamed US "military intelligence officer" is convinced the resistance is dead and that "terrorism" is just going to be a fact of life for Iraq ("for a long time") but others are less sure. Col James Phelps thinks it could rebound like a spring (however, his grasp of how a spring works seems, at best, weak). There is a concern/panic over 'sleeper cells' which echoes statements made in Rania Abouzeid (Time magazine) report (noted in yesterday's snapshot). Is the concern realistic or not? At this point, no one knows (and Rubin doesn't attempt to present it any other way or to take sides). But, true or false, it feeds into al-Maliki's talk of why he can't let "Awakenings" be absorbed by his puppet government. (The counter-argument is that these concerns are not about potential absorbings, these concerns are that "sleepers" are already in the Iraqi security forces.) Nouri's best buddy, the Condi to his George, Mowaffak al-Rubaie (who was awarded the title of "Iraq's national seucirty adviser" following a dramatic upset in the swimsuit competition) is insistent that it's (you know it's coming) "Al Qaeda and the hard-core Saddamists" -- and you get the feeling that al Qaeda's tossed in for the international audience and "Saddamists" for all the Shi'ites in Iraq. Like Condi, Mowaffak knows how to work the room.

For the article, "14 leaders of the Awakening movement" were interviewed and they see reason for concerns: "assassination attempts, homemade bombs placed near their homes or under their cars, leaflets urging them not to work with the Iraqi government." Mullah Nadhim al-Jubori goes on the record and notes kidnappings of four men serving under him (two set free when ransom was paid, the other two killed)and notes: "The ransom was picked up in Baghdad. That tells me there is good coordination and organization among Al Qaede members."

Rubin notes Diyala Province never saw the 'safety' increase Baghdad did although Baquba is less likely to be called "the city of death" today. ("Forty-three people were killed in Diyala in March, up from 29 in February and 6 in January, according to the Diyala Operations Command.") And she quotes Ali al-Tamimi ("chief of the Proinvicial Council's security committee") stating that despite warnings made (by him) there has been no heeding of them as the situation continues to deteriorate.

It's a very strong article. We'll note this from it:

Several well-planned bombings, one on a street recently reopened because it was thought to be safe, have killed 123 people, most of them in and around Baghdad. Three were suicide bombings, signatures of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni extremist group with some foreign leadership.

And the reason we're noting that is because the attack Rubin's linked to (linked to NYT report on) is also addressed by an Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy:

"I just can not understand why the insurgents target the civilians. They are not security forces like us. They don't cause any harm to anyone. They just want to live"
With thes words and with a strong will to control the tears, the policeman who escorted me to the scene of yesterday's explosion started the conversation. I couldn't give him any answer because the same question troubles my mind. The blast killed at least 16 people and wounded some 45. The death toll likely rose today.
I walked slowly down the street which was, until the explosion a lively street filled with men, women and children. I saw some of them but they were still under the effect of the explosion. Their faces tell the story of ongoing pain and suffering of Iraqis.

That's the opening to the photo essay provided in "Story of ongoing pain" and the photos (no corpses, but blood is in them) remind of how long it's been (the very early days of the illegal war) since bombings have really been covered. (The BBC frequently runs a photo essay, I'm referring to US outlets.) This is post-bombing, after the scene has been 'cleaned.' And look at at all the damage and all the remaining blood.

Back to the shifting sands Rubin's covering, Nathan Hodge's "Iraq's Militia Clash Could Bode Ill for Afghanistan" (Wired) covers it via a roundup of sources (Fadel, Ricks, etc. -- we linked to all of those yesterday morning so no excerpt). We'll note this from Anna Mulrine's "What's Behind the Latest Sunni-Shiite Clashes in Iraq" (US News & World Reports):

It seems clear that U.S. commanders had cause for concern. SOI leaders throughout the country have complained that they haven't been paid in months. One U.S. military spokesman said that the dearth of paychecks was the result of a problem with the Ministry of the Interior's payroll process and that it had been rectified recently.
Beyond payroll issues, the government has failed to incorporate these Sunnis into the predominately Shiite Iraqi security forces as the U.S. government said would happen. While the Iraqi government had promised to allow one fifth of the SOI members, or 19,000, to join security forces, only 5,000 had been given jobs. Sunni SOI leaders attribute this to animosity among the majority-Shiite government leaders and fears that members of the Awakening movement could turn against them as U.S. forces withdraw.
The simmering issue moved into the spotlight last week with the arrest of Adil al-Mashhadani, a Sunni leader who was handcuffed and brought in on terrorism charges. He had been an outspoken critic of what many believe to be the Iraqi government's marginalization the Sons of Iraq.

Robert H. Reid (AP) observes:

But the move into al-Fadel, a crime- ridden slum run by insurgents for years, carried big risks -- chief among them that Sunnis would view the action not as a move against a criminal but a politically motivated Shiite push against Sunnis. It came after arrests of other Awakening Council figures in Baghdad and nearby Diyala province.
With suspicions running deep, some council leaders questioned the government's motives -- including why the warrant was issued in December but served only now.

In some of today's violence, Alsumaria reports, "Eight people including 4 police officers were killed and 10 other people were wounded when a suicide bomber broke into a police compound with his booby trapped car and blasted it there in the middle of Mosul city. To that, two civilians were wounded in a blast that took place near Al Ali Al Aazim mosque in Al Zaafaraniah region. To that, a mortar fell beside the Oil Marketing Company."

Iraq's Foreign Ministry notes:

31 March, 2009

Deputy Foreign Minister Meets French Senate Council Delegation

Dr. Abdul Karim Hashim, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Administration and Financial Affairs met on Tuesday, March 31st with the French Senate delegation consisting of Senator Jean-Francois Bonese, former Foreign Minister and Mrs. Monique Saurizea, members of Foreign Relations, Defense and Security Committee of the French Senate.

During the meeting they reviewed bilateral relations and ways of promoting the interests of the two friendly nations. Dr. Abdul Karim Hashim stressed the importance of communication and exchange of visits at various levels since they strengthen dialogue and cooperation between the various political actors.

On his part, the guest was pleased with the progress of security in the country and the political developments after the success of provincial elections that took place recently and expressed willingness to activate dialogue and meetings to serve the political process in Iraq.

In the US, With Aimee Allison (co-host of KPFA's The Morning Show with Philip Maldari), David Solnit authored Army Of None -- a valuable and wonderful book on counter-recruiting and strategies for peace. David Solnit notes:

Friend and filmmaker Rick Rowley comes to town with three films just shot on the ground in Iraq-- in typical high energy in-your-face style. Rick is joined by local IVAW organizer Carl "Davey" Davison and cutting-edge movement analyst Antonia Juhasz to do some collective thinking-discussing about how we can take on Obama to make the world a better place. Hope you can join us!

Please Invite your friends:
Bay Area Premiere
from the makers of "Fourth World War" & "This is What Democracy Looks Like"
A Big Noise Film
followed by a Public Discussion:
How Do We End Occupation & Empire Under Obama?

Carl Davison, organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in the Marines and the Army, and refused deployment to Iraq.
Antonia Juhasz, analyst, activist, author of Tyrany of Oil; The World's Most Powerful Industry--and What We Must Do to Stop It
Rick Rowley, Big Noise film maker recently returned for Iraq.

Friday April 3, 7pm
992 Valencia Street (at 21st), SF
Everyone welcome, $6 donation requested, not required.

Obama's Iraq is an evening of short films never before seen in America. Shot on the other side of the blast shields in Iraq's walled cities, it covers a very different side of the war than is ever seen on American screens. It reports unembedded from war-torn Falluja, from the giant US prison at Umm Qasr, from the Mehdi Army stronghold inside Sadr City -- from the places where mainstream corporate channels can not or will not go. Obama's Iraq asks the questions -- what is occupation under Obama, and how can we end the war in Iraq and the empire behind it? After the film, a public discussion will begin to answer that question. Join us.

Sponsored by Courage to Resist,
Bay Area Iraq Veterans Against the War,
& Unconventional Action in the Bay.

Added, the following community sites updated last night:

The e-mail address for this site is

rania abouzeid

aimee allison
 philip maldari
david solnit