Monday, May 11, 2009. Chaos and violence continues, the US military announces multiple deaths, Sahwa remains targeted, Australia announces all-out-of-Iraq (except for 100 troops) and more.
Today the US military announced a Camp Liberty shooting at 2:00 p.m. Iraq time in which five US service members were shot dead. In a second announcement, they added, "A U.S. Soldier suspected of being involved with the shootings is currently in custody." Luis Martinez and Martha Raddatz (ABC News) encourage people to watch ABC World News Tonight with Charles Gibson this evening for a report on the shooting. Tom Leonard (Telegraph of London) states three more US soldiers were wounded in the shooting as does CNN; however, Jenny Booth (Times of London) goes with "at least two others were wounded" and she quotes Lt Tom Garnett (military spokesperson) stating, "The shooter is a US soldier and he is in custody." CNN states the shooting took place at a clinic for US service members seeking assistance with stress. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) cites a US military official: "The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident shook up soldiers, many of whom are in their third and even fourth tours. Some broke down in tears, he said." Yochi J. Drezen (Wall St. Journal) draws the conclusion that many are drawing (and they may be right or they may be wrong) which is that it was likely fratricide, "Such crimes were more common during the Vietnam War, but have occurred only sporadically in Iraq. In 2003, Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two soldiers and wounded 14 others in a grenade attack in Kuwait; he was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2006, Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez was charged with murdering two officers in a suspicious explosion in Tikrit, though he was later acquitted. And last year, an American soldier was arrested in the shooting deaths of a pair of other soldiers at a base near the Iraqi city of Iskandariya." Mark Kukis (Time magazine) grabs a piano shawl and offers this crystal vision, "In the coming days and weeks, undoubtedly, a chilling tale will trickle out of the Pentagon and Camp Liberty as more details are revealed." "Timothy Williams (New York Times) goes with that as well and pretends Robert Gibbs is Barack Obama -- he's not. If the White House wants to issue a statement, they can do so. Gibbs fumbling in a press briefing when the issue is raised doesn't qualify as anything worth attributing to anyone but Gibbs. Or as Gi bbs said at another point during the press conference today, "I think the president -- I haven't talked specifically with him, but my guess is . . ." In the real world, BBC adds: "The BBC's Natalia Antelava, in Baghdad, says troops at Camp Liberty had been enjoying a much more relaxed atmosphere in recent months. She says there have been few attacks on the base recently, so the timing of the shooting will make it particularly shocking to the soldiers there." The Los Angeles Times offers Liz Sly's report and an AP video on the shooting. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly stated that "our sympathies go to the families of the soldiers. But beyond that, I don't have anything to say. I'd refer you to the Pentagon." This was Ian Kelly's first press briefing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined him for the start of the briefing to announce he was the new State Department spokesperson and the Acting Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs. She thanked Robert Wood who had been appointed a Deputy Spokersperson during the Bush administration: "And I want to thank for a wonderful job and provide my deepest appreciation to Robert Wood. He took over in the middle of a transition and has been drinking from a fire hose ever since. But I have really enjoyed getting to know Robert and I look foward to continuign to work with him as an important contributor within the Department to the Obama Administration's foreign policy."
At the Washington Post today, Ernesto Londono participated in an online chat. The scheduled topic was Iraq and, due to the news of the shooting, that became the primary focus of the chat. Below are some of the exchanges:
Fairfax, Va.: Is there anxiety there in Baghdad due to the new focus being on Afghanistan? If so, is the U.S. military doing about counseling or anything?
Ernesto Londono: I've spoken to some soldiers who feel that Iraq now feels like the "Forgotten War" -- a label that was coined to refer to Afghanistan back in 2004 and 2005. But I haven't heard soldiers express anger or anxiety over that. Some find it somewhat frustrating, but I wouldn't say it's a big deal for folks serving here that I talk to on a regular basis.
The U.S. military is paying a lot of attention to post traumatic stress disorder. Most large bases have combat stress clinics, where soldiers get counseling and sometimes medication. I know it's an issue commanders and squad leaders take very seriously. Unfortunately, seeking mental help also carries a stigma.
[. . .]
Bel Air, Md.: This is disturbing, especially that it happened at a military base. It's like what happens at local malls. How major an incident is this and how will it be handled. Is this the largest number of casualites in Iraq that have happened under Obama's watch?
Ernesto Londono: It's the deadliest incident in which a soldier -- apparently intentionally -- opened fire on comrades. A truck bombing in Mosul last month killed 5 soldiers.
Dallas, Tex.: You've been covering Iraq for two years now. How candid are the soldiers about how the war has affected them, and have any of the ones you've talked to said they're not surprised this happened?
Ernesto Londono: It varies. Some soldiers don't seem to mind talking about harrowing things. In fact, many seem to find it cathartic. Others do. Every soldier I've spoken to today is dismayed, saddened and frightened. I think everyone wants answers to two questions: who and why. Before we have those two pieces of information I think it's hard to draw firm conclusions.
Iraq: Was the soldier escorted to the clinic, was it a command referral? If so why did the commander not take the ammunition away and leave him his weapon?
Ernesto Londono: Some soldiers are escorted to combat stress clinics. Many are "walk ins." No appointment needed. We don't know whether the suspected gunman was a patient or what his motive may have been.
Also today the US military announced: "BASRA, Iraq -- A Multi-National Divison -- South Soldier died when an improvised explosives device struck his vehicle in the Basra Province at approximately 2 p.m. May 10. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The name of the service member will be announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Website at http://www.defenselink.mil/. The announcement will be made on the website no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's family." Saturday the US military announced: "A U.S. Soldier was killed in a non-combat related vehicle accident May 9. The accident is under investigation. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." And they announced: "JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- A 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Soldier died here as a result of non-combat related causes May 8. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending next of kin notification and release by the Department of Defense." And Saturday the Defense Department issued the following: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Spc. Shawn D. Sykes, 28, of Portsmouth, Va., died May 7 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, of wounds suffered from an accident that occurred May 5 at Combat Outpost Crazy Horse, Iraq. He was assigned to 215th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas." ICCC currently lists 4292 but they don't have the Basra death announced today so the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since the start of the war thus far is 4293.
Today War Criminal Steven D. Green faces sentencing. Thursday the man who took part in the gang-rape of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, who murdered her, who murdered her parents and her five-year-old sister was found guilty on all counts by a federal jury. Evan Bright is the 18-year-old high school senior who has attended and reported one every day of the trial. Yesterday Bright contributed an article on the verdict to The Huffington Post. Today Evan Bright's reporting on the sentencing on Twitter. Bright notes, "Heard from Qassim Hamza's older sis, the orphan Mohammed again, & for the 1st time, his little brother, Ahmed, & the uncle, Abu Farras again." And, apparently for the defense, "Heard from Sgt Miller, more on conditions in Iraq, & what it was like. In the middle of hearing Eric Lauzier, who is speaking abt leaders." Most interesting, he noted first thing this morning, "Just heard opening statements of sentencing phase from (P) Marisa Ford and (D) Pat Bouldin. CNN and the NYTimes are here as well." NYT?
Saturday's paper included Campbell Robertson and Atheer Kakan contribute "Ex-G.I. Guilty of Rape and Killings in Iraq" which was the first by name mention of Abeer by the paper. (For the paper's history, you can see Friday's snapshot.) However, she finally is named by the paper in paragraph thirteen of the fourteen paragraph story.
*First paragraph "the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and the killings of her and three members of her family"
*Paragraph three "where the girl and her family lived"
*Paragraph nine "moving the girl's parents and her young sister into a back room while two of the soldiers raped her"; "raping the girl and then shooting her repeatedly in the head and trying to set fire to her body"
*Pargraph thirteen finally gives her a name. We call her Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and that's what most outlets call her, it is what the FBI called her in their two press releases on Steven D. Green and it's how she was referred to in court.
Credit to the two Iraq based reporters for covering the verdict. The domestic staff? They sent how many reporters to Alaska and couldn't send anyone to Kentucky? (That should actually be, "They don't have a reporter in Kentucky?") Dave Alsup (CNN) reports background today on Green's arrest including Green declaring to FBI agents, "You probably think I'm a monster." Brett Barroquere (AP) notes Ford asked for the death penalty while Green's attorneys are arguing, 'None of the others got the death penalty!' Leaving the penalty out of it for a moment, did the others murder Abeer, her five-year-old sister and her parents? They took part in the War Crimes, no question. But Green was the ringleader and Green was one who shot dead all four family members. Killed four people. Green and co-horts committed War Crimes -- and good for CNN for calling them what they were ("On Monday, as the penalty phase of his trial begins, Green might become the first former U.S. soldier to face the death penalty for war crimes before a civilian court.") -- but Green was already labeled the ringleader and he is the one who murdered four people.
Over the weekend, AFP reported that Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Jordan Saturday and urged Iraq to work to protect the country's Christian minority. AFP noted, "Estimated to number some 800,000 at the time of the US-led invasion of 2003, Christians have been prominent among the 2.7 million Iraqis who fled their homes during the sectarian violence that followed and as few as 400,000 are now believed to remain in their homeland."
Yesterday US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US House Rep Rush Holt hollered "SURPRISE!" as they made a sneak visit to Iraq. Pelosi's office notes that they met with Nouri al-Maliki and with Ayad al-Smarai who is the new Speaker of Parliament and was his first meeting with any elected American officials since he became the Speaker. The issues discussed on the trip were:
rooting out wide-spread corruption that is impeding reconstruction and the delivery of services to the Iraqi people;
providing security to all Iraqi citizens;
resolving the border conflict between the Kurds and Iraqis; and
building a strong Iraqi intelligence capability.
As J-Ross (Liberal Rapture) asks, "Why can no one ever make an announced visit to Iraq?" Anthony Shadid and Nada Barki (Washington Post) explain, "Pelosi was careful not to signal any long-term military commitment in Iraq, saying the United States intends to 'help economically and culturally'." Jack Dolan (McClatchy Newspapers) observes, "Pelosi's visit comes in the wake of an alarming spike in violence. More than 200 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad last month, the highest toll in more than a year."
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report the Green Zone was attacked with mortars today, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Sahwa "head" and left "two civilians" injured and a Kirkuk car bombing claimed 2 lives and left eight more injured.
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report police Brig Gen Abdulhussein Muhsin al Kathimi was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 guard was shot dead at the Mosul Governorate building with another wounded, Hadbaa politician Arkan Aziz al-Ta'ee was shot dead in Mosul and 1 off duty police officer was shot dead in Mosul. Xinhua notes al-Kazemi's shooting, "Kazemi's death came a day after his superior, Maj. Gen. Jaafar al-Khafaji, escaped a bomb attack near his convoy in central Baghdad."
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) report the corpse of 5-year-old boy was discovered in Baghdad ten days after he was kidnapped (they'd asked for "50 thousand USD").
1 Sahwa was reported killed today. BBC reported 1 was killed Saturday, Abed al-Kairiya, in a roadside bombing outside Baghdad. Sahwa are also known as "Awakenings" and "Sons Of Iraq." Independent journalist Dahr Jamail (at Dissident Voice) observes:
Throughout history, those who collaborate with the occupiers of their country tend to end up hung out to dry, or dead. The occupation of Iraq is no different; collaboration and the poison fruits that come of it are on full display for the history books once again. Only now, the rapidity with which this is happening is staggering.
On May 5, the Iraqi military killed Basim Mohammed and detained his brother. Mohammed was a member of the Sahwa, the 100,000-strong Sunni militia composed mostly of former resistance fighters that the US created in order to use them to battle al-Qaeda in Iraq, as well as paying them off to draw down the number of attacks against occupation forces.
The Sahwa, who were supposed to be given government jobs either in security or in civil services, have been betrayed. Instead of being given the promised jobs, they have been consistently targeted by the Iraqi military, and at times the US military, which has left them vulnerable as well to attacks from al-Qaeda. As a result, they are walking off their security jobs for lack of pay, and have largely ceased their military operations against al-Qaeda. The predictable result is what we have been witnessing over the last months -- a slow but steady increase in the number of attacks against Iraqi and US forces and a dramatic rise in the spectacular car bomb attacks in largely Shia areas that kill scores at a time.
The obvious solution would be for the Obama administration to pressure its client government in Baghdad to fulfill promises to incorporate the Sahwa into its ranks, as well as applying pressure to Prime Minister Maliki to lay off targeting the Sahwa and its leadership.
Instead, Sahwa members like Mohammed are being killed and their family members detained, and the attacks continue. On May 3, Iraqi forces arrested Nadhim al-Jubouri, a Sahwa leader in the volatile Salahadin province. In March, Iraqi forces detained Adil al-Mashadani, head of another Sahwa group in the Fadhil neighborhood of central Baghdad -- which ignited clashes between US, Iraqi and Sahwa forces that left three men dead and set the stage for more bloodletting.
Sunday Sam Dagher (New York Times) addressed the continuing targeting of the Sahwa members. Mullah Nadhim al-Jubouri was arrested on May 2nd along with two brothers and charged with terrorism. He tells the paper, "Arresting Awakeing leaders at this juncture is a very big mistake that created a security void." Most important line in the article: "The Awakening members in Dhuluiya will get their last paychecks from the American military this month, after which the government is supposed to take over, according to Mr. Jubouri's deputy, Mohammed, who also goes by the same tribal last name." Saturday Charles Levinson (Wall St. Journal) also pointed out that Sahwa members were still not being paid by Nouri al-Maliki. This despite the fact that he was supposed to have picked up payment last month.
It's a pity the modern day press really doesn't do retractions. Meanwhile Elisabeth Bumiller broke down the coming realities Saturday: "The top American general in Iraq said Friday that one-fifth of American combat troops would stay behind in Iraqi cities even after the June 30 deadline that the United States and Iraq had set for the departure." Yes, he did say that. More than once. He was also asked about the mythical al-Baghdidi and refused to say the US believes he exists or was captured by the Iraqis. He noted that no one has seen the suspect allegedly detained except for the Iraqis. Not at all surprising and al-Maliki's already made the exception for Baghdad. Today on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman spoke with conservative historian Andrew Bacevich who offered the following on the Iraq War:
But with regard to the Iraq war, I think that, you know, the new Tom Ricks book --not to push his book -- The Gamble, he reaches the conclusion that the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered in history probably haven't happened yet. And I think that's probably about right. The notion that the surge won the war is an illusion. Certainly, the notion that the surge created the conditions that are going to produce political reconciliation in Iraq, that's an illusion. The war is off the front pages, but the war continues. We are reminded of that, as we get periodic reports of bombs blowing up in Baghdad and civilians being killed.
I wouldn't hazard to guess on what the future holds for Iraq. I would simply say that Iraq will provide further evidence of the fact that the United States is not able to determine the fate of nations in the greater Middle East. The Iraqis will sort that out, for better or for ill. And we will be left wondering what exactly we gained through the expenditure of a trillion dollars and the loss of more than 4,000 American lives in a war that, frankly, should not have been begun in the first place.
Thomas E. Ricks is the author of The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq 2006-2008 (a great book). He's currently in a silly tussle with Anti-war.com, here for him, here for them, here for me. And because even smart people like Thomas E. Ricks don't always grasp ethics, we'll note this pledge from Network of Concerned Anthropologists:
We, the undersigned, believe that anthropologists should not engage in research and other activities that contribute to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the "war on terror." Furthermore, we believe that anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat, be it through torture, interrogation, or tactical advice.
US military and intelligence agencies and military contractors have identified "cultural knowledge," "ethnographic intelligence," and "human terrain mapping" as essential to US-led military intervention in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. Consequently, these agencies have mounted a drive to recruit professional anthropologists as employees and consultants. While often presented by its proponents as work that builds a more secure world, protects US soldiers on the battlefield, or promotes cross-cultural understanding, at base it contributes instead to a brutal war of occupation which has entailed massive casualties. By so doing, such work breaches relations of openness and trust with the people anthropologists work with around the world and, directly or indirectly, enables the occupation of one country by another. In addition, much of this work is covert. Anthropological support for such an enterprise is at odds with the humane ideals of our discipline as well as professional standards.
We are not all necessarily opposed to other forms of anthropological consulting for the state, or for the military, especially when such cooperation contributes to generally accepted humanitarian objectives. A variety of views exist among us, and the ethical issues are complex. Some feel that anthropologists can effectively brief diplomats or work with peacekeeping forces without compromising professional values. However, work that is covert, work that breaches relations of openness and trust with studied populations, and work that enables the occupation of one country by another violates professional standards.
Consequently, we pledge not to undertake research or other activities in support of counter-insurgency work in Iraq or in related theaters in the "war on terror," and we appeal to colleagues everywhere to make the same commitment.
Defence will conclude its military commitment to the rehabilitation of Iraq on 31 July 2009 marking the end of a mission that commenced on 20 March 2003.
Following the withdrawal of Australian combat troops in 2008 and the relocation of the Australian National Headquarters from Baghdad, Australia's commitment to Operation CATALYST has consisted of personnel employed in non-combat roles within coalition headquarters. In 2009, there have been around 45 such personnel deployed in Iraq.
The Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said Australia could take great pride in the enduring contribution that the Australian Defence Force had made to the future of Iraq.
"Australian troops have provided important support to security and stabilisation operations, and have been responsible for the training of approximately 33,000 Iraqi Army soldiers, including specialist training in logistics support and counter-insurgency operations," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
The cessation of Operation CATALYST does not include 100 ADF personnel providing protection for Australian diplomatic staff and the Australian embassy in Baghdad under Operation KRUGER, nor two ADF officers serving with the UN assistance Mission for Iraq under Operation RIVERBANK.
"The Australian Defence Organisation greatly appreciates the support and assistance received from coalition partners and the people and Government of Iraq during the ADF's deployment on Operation CATALYST,," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
"The Australian Government and the Department of Defence in partiular, look forward to maintaining a strong and robust Defence Cooperation Program with Iraq into the future."