Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, June 2, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, a conviction in the kidnapping and murder of Margaret Hassan, Parliaments in Iraq and Kuwait lobby verbal bombs at one another, a political party is banned from the July elections, Odierno offers some fancy dancing, and more.
Today in Baghdad, Al Jazeera reports Judge Assaad al-Moussawi declared, "Ali Lutfi Jassar is sentenced to life for participating in the killing and kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, and of attempting to blackmail her family."  Margaret Hassan was with the NGO CARE International and worked in Iraq (where she held citizenship) for years before the start of the illegal war. She was kidnapped October 19, 2004 in Baghdad. She was brutally murdered. We last noted her death in the December 24, 2008 snapshot. That was when alleged kidnappers Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi and Manif Slih were supposed to stand trial and the family waited to see what happened while issuing a statement:

Since Margaret's death we have spent the last four years trying to find her remains. We have sought justice and truth, and have never given up. We want to bring her home and give her a Christian burial with the respect she deserves. This was a promise made to her by her husband (Tahseen Ali Hassan), and together with our family, he has never given up hope of fulfiling that promise.         
[. . .]                
One of these men was trying to blackmail the British Government and our family in exchange for the return of Margaret's remains.                     
He demanded money from us, and a safe haven from the British Government in the UK for his family.                         
[. . .]                              
We have begged them to send an Embassy official to the trial to represent our sister Margaret. They feel unable to do so because of the security situation. We do not understand this.                              
[. . .]                        
Mr Brown said just this week that the British Government has achieved all its goals and the security situation in Iraq is much improved.

The December trial quickly adjourned. Sunday Sam Marsden (PA via Independent of London) quoted Margaret's sister Deidre Fitzsimons stating, "If he's put in prison, if he knows he's got a life sentence, maybe he will decide to tell us where her remains are.  I don't belive we are ever going to get justice for my sister.  But we would like her to be buried here because my family has suffered over the past four-and-a-half years.  We have spent all our time trying to find her remains.  We want some peace in our lives."  David Brown (Times of London) noted this morning, "The mystery surrounding the location of her grave has compounded the anguish of Mrs Hassan's three sisters, her brother and their extended families."  Their questions were not answered in the hearing.  Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) explains Ali Lutfi Jassar received a life sentence for "kidnapping, extortion and murder".  For those who think that sentence means something, the Belfast Telegraph reminds, "Another man was also jailed for life in 2006 for aiding and abetting the kidnappers, but his sentence was reduced on appeal." That man was Mustafa Mohammed Salman al-Jabouri.  The reaction of Iraqis to the sentencing of Steven D. Green for his War Crimes which included taking part in the gang-raping and murdering  14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, murdering her parents and five-year-old sister is also worth remembering.  Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quoted Mahdi Obaid Janabi ("an elder of the Janabi tribe") stating that pressure should be put on the US to force a change from life sentence to the death penalty for Green. Sheik Fahil al-Janabi told Marc Santora and Suadad al-Salhy (New York Times) that the life sentence "is not enough".   Sami al-Jumaili and Habaib al-Zubaidy (Reuters) quoted Abeer's uncle Raad Yusuf stating, "It's a real shock.  That court decision is a crime -- almost worse than the soldier's crime."  Habib al-Zubaidy (Reuters) noted a mechanic from Abeer's home time, Ahmed Samir stating, "What the American soldier did is a terrorist act and he deserves execution.  The court has not delivered justice.  If I killed an American girl, the American court would have executed me."  CNN quoted Sahwa leader Mustafa Kamel Shabib al-Jaoburi stating, "He raped a girl and killed an entire family, and he got only life in prison. . . . This is an unjust trial.  We demand a new trial."  There is no outcry in Iraq that Ali Lutfi Jassar received too light a sentence.
The Irish Times quotes an e-mail Jassar was convicted of sending to the British embassy, "I am one of the people who participated in the operation of kidnapping and executing Margeret Hassan.  I have with me all the evidence proving this.  Therefore I request securing of a channel of contact with the husband of Margaret, Tashin Hassan, or with the British government in order that I can give you the true story of her killing.  So I can pass on to you her corpse which I still have in my possession.  Therefore I request your speedy reply as soon as possible."  BBC New's Nicholas Witchell states, "The leaders of this plot have never been found.  Some of their names are known but they have never been traced.  [Ali Lutfi Jassar] told the judges he had nothing at all to do with the murder.  He said confessions had been wrought from him through torture."  Iraqi 'justice' does have a reputation of beating 'confessions' out of prisoners.   In response to the sentence, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued the following:
John Tucknott, the Charge d'affaires in Baghdad, welcomed news of the sentencing of Ali Lutfi Jassar Al Rawi for his part in the kidnap and murder of Margaret Hassan on Tuesday 2 June. He said:                    
'I welcome the news that Ali Lutfi Jassar Al Rawi has today been brought to justice by the Iraqi authorities for the role he played in the kidnap and murder of Margaret Hassan. Our thoughts are with Margaret Hassan's family for the suffering they continue to endure.                     
We hope that this may be a step further to finding the other people responsible for this dreadful crime, and to finding Margaret's body. We will continue to work with the Iraqi authorities as they continue their investigation, and press them to follow up all possible aspects. We urge anyone with information on this crime to please come forward.'
Xinhua notes, "At the age of 27, she married Tahseen Ali Hassan, a 29-year-oldIraqi student of engineering in the United Kingdom. She moved to Iraq with him in 1972 and became Iraqi citizen. She spent the rest of her life in the country."  Antony Loyd (Times of London)  explains, "The Dublin-born Roman Catholic, who had joint British, Iraqi and Irish nationality, we married to an Iraqi and had lived in Iraq for 30 years."  Margaret held triple citizenship: British, Iraqi and Irish.  In one of last year's most read pieces at the Independent of London, Robert Fisk remembered:
It was Margaret who took leukaemia medicines donated by readers of The Independent to the child cancer victims of Iraq back in 1998 after we discovered that hundreds of infants were dying in those areas where Western forces used depleted uranium munitions in the 1991 Gulf War. She was a proverbial tower of strength, and it was she -- and she alone --  who managed to persuade Saddam Hussein's bureaucrats to let us bring the medicine into Iraq. The United Nations sanctions authorities had been our first hurdle, Saddam Hussein our second. It is all history. Like Margaret, all the children died.
Meanwhile Alsumaria reports the Parliament ended its session today with the Speaker (Ayad al-Samarri) hurling charges at Kuwait and some MPs calling for Kuwait "to pay financial allocations".  Kuwait's MPs must have felt their ears burning because AFP reports that they had Iraq on their mind as well and called on their government to discontinue reparations payments and MP Falah al-Sawwag added, "If this is how Iraqi MPs deal with their neighbor Kuwait, I think we should recall the Kuwaiti ambassador from Baghdad."  had Iraq on their mind, Marc Lynch (Foreign Policy) reports:
While it hasn't received much attention, Iraq's relations with two key Arab Gulf states have jumped the tracks over the last week.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has publicly declared that he has given up on trying to reconcile with the Saudis.  Meanwhile, Iraq and the Kuwaitis are in an increasingly nasty spat over the question of compensation claims dating back to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  It's gotten to the point that a majority of the members of the Iraqi Parliament are demanding that Kuwait pay compensation to Iraq for allowing U.S. troops to invade Iraq in 1991!    This is a time for American diplomacy to kick into high gear and try to prevent this from getting out of hand, since U.S. plans to withdraw from Iraq depend at least in part on establishing a sustainable regional security architecture. 
Al Jazeera explains some MPs in Kuwait staged a walk out and "Some of the MPs who walked out also protested against the failure by two of their four female colleagues to cover their heads as required by Islamic rules."  Meanwhile, ISRIA notes Kuwait's "Foreign Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah said Kuwait regretted the escalatory language of some media outlets vis-a-vis the State of Kuwait, charging it with seeking to harm Iraq, at a time it has exerted enormous efforts at various levels to support the brotherly Iraq and helping it rejoin the international community."  
In other political news, the Kurdistan Regional Government holds their elections July 25th.  They, like Kirkuk, did not participate in the January 31st elections.  Their elections will be for the country's Parliament as well as to determine the KRG's president.  AFP reports that the al-Amal ("Hope") candidates have been banned from the list by "judicial authorities in Baghdad" because they allegedly have ties to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Turkey, the US and Nouri al-Maliki among others.  The news comes on the same day the KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani declared of the ongoing PKK ceasefire, "We believe extending the ceasefire serves as an important step towards peace and stability in the area.  At the same time, it is in the interest of all that we continue to work towards a solution in a peaceful way, especially after the recent positive steps taken by Turkey."  Whether al-Amal is associated with the PKK or not, the decision by Baghdad could enflame tensions.  This follows Mohammed Abbas (Reuters) report yesterday where the KRG's Oil Minister, Ashtia Hawrami, stated the KRG must be involved in the resolution of who has control over the oil-rich Kirkuk (the KRG or the central government) and that the KRG would not accept any oil deals for Kirkuk signed by al-Maliki's government: "I will say no company will sign an agreement without coming to the KRG. They have to sit down with us and say 'Is this OK?'. If I am not party to the agreement up front, I don't know what it is."
Meanwhile in other news, AFP reports that the Front of Jihad and Change announced they had chosen Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari for their spokesperson: "We will allow Dahri to speak on our behalf on political issues and to represent us . . . to defend the blood of our martyrs."
Turning to US political offices for a correction to yesterday's snapshot which noted LA City Council member Bill Rosendahl's conversation with Lila Garrett on  KPFK's Connect the Dots with Lila Garrett and mentioned his chief of staff whose last name was mispelled: His name is Mike Bonin.  My apologies.
Over the weekend, Alsumaria noted that Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, met the US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill for the first time Friday. For the first time. Remember Hill's Senate hearing? Refer to 3/26 and 3/29 snapshots. Chris Hill, as soon as he was confirmed, was getting on the next flight to Iraq and getting down to work! Now the next flight ended up being the next one he wanted to catch, and that ended up three days after he was confirmed. April 21st he was confirmed. May 30th, over thirty days later, he finally meets face-to-face with the president of Iraq.
The meeting was allowed to linger, just like al-Maliki's allowed to let the Sahwa situation linger by refusing to bring them into the government forces.  Regarding tensions on the ground,  Matt Brown files this report for PM (Australia's ABC -- link has text and audio):

ABU MOHAMMED: The problem, they are in a state of: I don't know who's coming next to get me. Is it the militia? Is it the insurgents? Is it the American?

MATT BROWN: Abu Mohammed is a pseudonym for a young man I met in eastern Sydney. While the latest car bombing won't even make the news here, Abu Mohammed is watching anxiously every day. He's a member of one of Iraq's most famous Sunni tribes. His family still lives in Al-Doura, just south of central Baghdad, on the edge of an area once dubbed the triangle of death.         
[. . .]              
As a Sunni Muslim, Abu Mohammad fears the Shiite clerics and their political parties which now run the country. His family suffered at the hands of the Shiite militia which dominates the Government's security services when his brother was detained in 2007.                  

ABU MOHAMMED: They just took him from the street basically, based on his identity. For a week we didn't know what's happened and then we found out it was the militia. He ended up in a Government prison, Iraqi Government prison.
He's been subject to a lot of torture. He went there 24 years old; he came out looking, after one year and a half, as if he is 44 years old.    

MATT BROWN: What's that left you feeling about the Government and who's running it?                      

ABU MOHAMMED: They don't care about the people, 100 per cent, you know what I mean? I think they're driven by revenge.      

MATT BROWN: In the last two years those forces have been reined in. The surge in American troops which began in 2007 was also crucial to lowering levels of violence. But equally important was the American decision to turn enemies into allies.       
They joined forces with local Sunni tribal leaders who were threatened by the growing power of more radical Sunnis in groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq. They formed Al-Sahwa - awakening councils. They raised militias called the Sons of Iraq. Some were former insurgents but now they were on the American payroll.
Meanwhile, he's got to cut loose, footlose.  Gen Ray Odierno tried not to dance for Washington.  Those days are over.  Tim Cocks (Reuters) reports that while in Samarra with Odierno today, the general stated that "U.S. combat forces will vacate all Iraqi cities on schedule by the end of this month".  Visions of Dancing With The Stars in his head, Tim Cocks joins Odierno in a box step and forgets reality.  From the April 27th snapshot: "Rod Nordland (New York Times) broke that story in today's paper and noted that Iraq and the US are going to focus on Mosul in talks about US troops remaining in some Iraqi cities.  Nordland reveals they will remain in Baghdad (he says 'parts of Baghdad' -- that means they will be in Baghdad and Baghdad is a city) and that Camp Victory ['Camps Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer, plus the prison known as Camp Cropper'] and 'Camp Prosperity' will not be closed or turned over to Iraq according to Iraqi Maj Gen Muhammad al-Askari. The SOFA 'requires' that they be closed or turned over but  al-Askari says they're making exceptions even though the SOFA 'requires' otherwise. For the mammoth Camp Victory, it is in Baghdad and out of Baghdad, for example, so al-Askari says they consider it out of Baghdad." They're not leaving Baghdad, they've got a waiver.  There's a difference.   And May 30th, the paper's Campbell Robertson offers "U.S. Soldier And 11 Iraqis Die in Attacks" which offered this of the June 30th 'deadline': "But Mosul is in many ways an exception to that deadline. An enormous American base on the edge of Mosul -- a city that has remained a redoubt for the insurgency even as attacks have decreased substantially around the rest of Iraq -- will remain open."  Yeah, Tim Cocks leaves out all of that.  But doesn't he sound passionate serenading Ray Odierno?
It's your heat that makes me warm       
Makes me climb on you like a tree      
And I don't need no fancy dancing     
When you bend over me      

We'll be like two lazy sunbathers   
Swaying palm trees against the sky    
And I beg you when you love me      
Look me in the eyes
Look Tim in the eyes, Ray, when you love him, look him in the eyes. (Lyrics from Carly Simon's "Look Me In The Eyes" which first appeared on Playing Possum.)

Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa and Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 Baghdad roadside bombings.  Alsumaria reports a Mosul mortar attack on a police station which wounded two police officers (all other incidents listed were noted in yesterday's snapshot).
Today the US military announced, "BAGHDAD -- A U.S. Soldier died June 2 of combat-related injuries after an improvised explosive device detonated near a patrol in eastern Baghdad.  The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.  The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense Official Web site at [here].  The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation."  The announcement brought the number of US service members who have died in the Iraq War to 4308.
May is the deadliest month of the year so far for US service members in Iraq. As noted yesterday, the death toll tends to trickle out as the end of the month approaches which allows many news outlets the 'chance' to do their end of the month reports and run with incomplete figures. Other death notices for the month may continue to trickle out but, at this point, the death toll stands at 25.

Bradley W. Iorio's death was announced yesterday and took the toll to 25. The Defense Department issued the following statement: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pvt. Bradley W. Iorio, 19, of Galloway, N.J., died May 29 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries suffered from a non-combat related incident May 27 in Tallil, Iraq. He was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation. For more information the media may contact the Fort Bliss public affairs office at (915) 568-4505."
On the subject of the media,
Alsumaria reports, "Al Baghdadiya reporter colleague Alaa' Abdul Al Wahab was killed in a car bomb explosion in Al Shorta District in northern Mosul. Local police official reported that Abdul Wahab who is also a journalist was killed while University professor Dr. Sultan Gerges, an anchor on another TV channel was wounded due the bomb that was planted in Abdul Wahab's car." The Committee to Protect Journalists writes of the death of Alaa Abdel-Wahab from a Mosul sticky bombing and observes:

In a similar but unrelated attack the same day, two staffers from the state-run Al-Iraqiya television station were badly wounded when a bomb attached to their car exploded in the Al-A'zamiya district in Baghdad, according to local and international news reports. One of the wounded staffers was identified as sound engineer Hameed Yousif, while the second staffer's identity has not been revealed, according to local news reports. The observatory said Yousif is in critical condition.

The assaults on the press also wasn't judged to be a 'story' for the New York Times. Reporters Without Borders also notes the death of Alaa Abdel Wahab:

"We are saddened and appalled by these two bombings," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is time the slaughter of journalists in Iraq was stopped. The Iraqi authorities created a special police unit last year to investigate murders of journalists. We urge them to investigate these two bombings very thoroughly. Only conclusive results are likely to discourage these killers and improve the safety of journalists."
A renowned print media journalist and reporter for Al-Baghdadia TV, Wahab was killed in Mosul's Al-Shurta neighbourhood by a bomb that had been placed underneath his car. A local police official said Dr Sultan Jurjis, a university academic and presenter on a rival TV station, was injured by the blast.
Turning to the US, James Rowley and Jonathan D. Salant (Bloomberg News) report that, while addressing the National Press Club in DC yesterday, former President of Vice Dick Cheney declared that there was no link between Iraq and 9-11. Declared it many years too late, too late for over 1.3 million dead Iraqis, too late for 4307 dead US service members. Apparently chafing in his Depends from too much honesty (he does have an allergy to honesty), Cheney immediately began spinning and lying declaring that the CIA was the one who got it wrong (the White House worked the CIA on that point) and whined, "We know for a fact that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism." When a Cheney starts using "We know for a fact," grasp that a Cheney is lying.
Chris Hedges was a guest yesterday on WBAI's Law and Disorder -- the hourly program hosted by Michael Ratner, Michael Smith, Heidi Boghosian and Dalia Hashad. This episode was delayed due to fundraising (and played elsewhere last week but on WBAI yesterday). Mike noted Hedges' appeareance last night and Jeremy Scahill's. Both spoke of the refusal to hold Barack accountable with Jeremy noting "an almost cult-like behavior."   With Laila Al-Arian, Chris Hedges co-authored Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians and Hedges, Jeremy Scahill, Sister Dianna Ortiz, Michael Ratner, Andy Zee and others (like Laura Flanders because, as Diane Keaton notes in Love & Death, you've got have some uglies in the mix) will take part June 3rd at seven p.m. in a discussion at New York Society for Ethical Culture.  Both Scahill and Hedges also spoke of a state-like media in the US (with the fawning over Barry O).  In a new piece, Hedges observes:
The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight.           
Those who return to speak this truth, such as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, are our contemporary prophets. But like all prophets they are condemned and ignored for their courage. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. They know that what we are taught in school, in worship, by the press, through the entertainment industry and at home, that the melding of the state's rhetoric with the rhetoric of religion, is empty and false.            
The words these prophets speak are painful. We, as a nation, prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. Not our boys, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if it is easy for them to murder, what about us? And so it is simpler and more comfortable not to hear. We do not listen to the angry words that cascade forth from their lips, wishing only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We, the deformed, brand our prophets as madmen. We cast them into the desert. And this is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions.
Two weeks ago, Notre Dame became a flash point in the struggle for women's right to abortion when Obama was invited to give the graduation commencement address. It provides a concentrated expression of why we keep losing ground and losing clinics and losing doctors and losing hearts and minds, especially of young people who have grown up in a time of complete moral confusion around abortion. And, in many ways, the events surrounding Obama's Notre Dame appearance set the stage for this most recent killing.

When anti-abortion leaders learned of Obama's invitation to Notre Dame, they put their movement on an emergency footing. They crowed about how Obama is the most "radical pro-choice" president ever. Christian fascist lunatic women-haters like Randall Terry (who is all over the media now exclaiming he has no sympathy for Dr. Tiller and calling him a "mass murderer") were joined by zombie-like fundamentalist foot-soldiers to descend on the campus. They screamed bloody murder, trespassed and got arrested, projected their rhetoric all over the national media, and incited their fanatical base across the country.

On the other side, there were no pro-choice organizations. That's right, zero. It seems that, just like under the Clinton years when abortion access was dramatically restricted, the pro-choice movement was asleep at the wheel because a "pro-choice" Democrat is in the White House.

I went to Notre Dame together with a half dozen other supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Several handfuls of students and community members who came out on their own joined us in raising a banner, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" and signs that read, "Women Are Not Incubators! Fetuses Are Not Babies! Abortion Is Not Murder!"

Meanwhile, Obama was inside the graduation hall pumping out the deadly illusion of "common ground." He suggested that every woman feels morally heart-wrenched by abortion. He suggested that we find "common ground" in reducing the number of abortions and the number of unintended pregnancies. Obama said we should find "common ground" around the need to "care and support for women who do carry their child to term."

As I analyzed more fully
here (http://revcom.us/a/166/ST_on_Obama-en.html), Obama's speech gave more moral legitimacy and political initiative to the movement that wants to force women to bear children against their will.