Sunday, July 19, 2009

And the war drags on . . .

The Kurds will vote on July 25 for a regional assembly and a president. They were also supposed to approve the new constitution, but a hurried intervention by the US vice president Joe Biden and warnings from Baghdad have persuaded Kurdish leaders to postpone that referendum.
Kurdish anxiety is understandable. From 2003 until recently they were at the height of their power. After their ally, the United States, overthrew Saddam Hussein, the political vacuum and the civil war that ensued gave Kurdistan unprecedented freedom and autonomy, turning it into a security and economic haven in a troubled country. But the Kurds were careful not to push their advantage too far: in a show of faith in Iraq’s future, one of their own, Jalal Talabani, even became the first non-Arab head of the Iraqi state. The Kurds now appear to feel that the goodwill they displayed when they were strong brought few benefits.

The above is from The National's "Iraq's divisixions put its security gains at risk" and despite so little interest in the Kurdish region from US outlets, that is where a great deal of the events that will shape Iraq's immediate future are currently occurring. Saturday, the region holds its provincial and presidential elections and does so without the New York Times doing the the three week advance build up that they gave for the other provincial elections January 31st (the KRG didn't take place in those provincial elections, nor did Kirkuk -- despite the way the press presented them, all of Iraq did not vote January 31st). And it's not just the New York Times, Panhandle Media (i.e. KPFA, Democracy Now!, etc.) were happy to pimp those elections in January and to pimp it as if meant their heart throb, the modern day Christ-child was really going to end the Iraq War. It was about spin, it wasn't about reality. These days they can't be bothered with Iraq for more than a few seconds. So you largely get silence in the US. Mehid Lebouachera (Kuwait Times) offers an analysis which opens with:

Kurdish demands to expand their autonomous region in northern Iraq to include the Kirkuk oil fields and other districts threaten to trigger armed conflict, diplomats and analysts warn. Six years after the US-led invasion in which Kurdish rebel groups were key allies, their decades-old claims to historically Kurdish-inhabited areas remain unresolved by the new Iraqi government in which they hold both the presidency and a deputy premiership.And opposition to the Kurdish demands remains as strong as ever, not only among the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Saddam Hussein's ousted regime but also among the Shiite majority community that leads the new government and among ethnic minorities such as the Turkmen. As time drags on, Kurdish leaders have voiced mounting frustration at the impasse in their talks with Baghdad, sparking an increasingly heated war of words with Arab politicians.

Nouri al-Maliki was installed by the US over three years ago. That's important. The 2005 Constitution, which went into effect in the final third of 2005 -- mere months before Nouri was installed -- promised an independent census of Kirkuk and a 2007 referendum. Nouri came to power and didn't get on that issue. Following the 2006 mid-term elections in the US, when both houses of Congress were handed over to Democrats (November, 2006), the White House, under pressure on the never-ending illegal war, began talking benchmarks for 'success.' The White House defined those benchmarks and Nouri signed off on them. The benchmarks included resolving the issue of Kirkuk. 2007. Two years later and still nothing.

Not only throughout the illegal war but also before it began, it was always known that Kirkuk was a divisive issue. (Hence the September 1998 White House meeting with Jalal Talabani, Kurd and current president of Iraq, and Masoud Barzani, Kurd and current president of the KRG; as well as the passage of in October 2002 of legislation by the Kurdish parliament preparing for the Iraq War.) Saddam Hussein ran Kurds out of the area and installed Arabs. The Kurds see Kirkuk as their land. The land is oil-rich and the Arabs aren't eager to hand it over to Kurdish control.

So despite the fact that Nouri came into office mere months after the Constitution went into effect (calling for resolution of the Kirkuk issue) and despite the fact that, in 2007, he signed off on benchmarks which included resolving the Kirkuk issue, he's done nothing. There has been no referendum, there hasn't even been a census.

Last summer lands the Kurds consider their own were nearly invaded by Iraqi forces in what some saw as an attempted take over and others saw as a 'crackdown' or assault similar to what Nouri staged on Basra in March of last year. It was a very tense situation and war could have erupted right then. Unlike the Shi'ite - Sunni conflict which was more ethnic cleansing due to the fact that the Sunnis are not in power and do not have the numbers that the Shi'ites, the KRG has its own army, has its own forces and the tensions do not cease, if these issues aren't resolved, it's not unlikely that real civil war will break out in Iraq. A real one. Not ethnic cleansing being 'prettied up' with the phrase 'civil war.' Not a bunch of powerless minorities being killed and run out of the country, but a full on war.

Such a war might give Shi'ites and Sunnis something to bond over and maybe that's why the issue's not really dealt with? But equally true is that the pershmerga is a real force, not a rag-tag one, not an inexperienced one. Nouri's force is infamous for desertion in the midst of battle. That happened during the assault on Basra. The assault on Basra required US forces backing Nouri up. Would they back up Nouri in a war on the KRG?

That's doubtful. In fact, were that to happen, you could see some of the largest global protests since the start of the illegal war because, while the Kurds haven't stressed this, they are among the world's most displaced people and they have historical events on their side. They do not have to 'play' a wronged people, historically and globally the Kurds are a wronged people. Even within Turkey, which has long had conflict with its Kurdish population (to put it mildly), you might see leaders encourage such sentiment with the hopes that, due to Turkey bordering Iraq, many of the Kurdish fighters in Turkey would depart from Turkey and move into Iraq to take up arms.

A conflict between the centeral government and the KRG will not find global support for the US puppet. That's reality and it's about damn time the White House grasped that.

For those who find it all so confusing, a 2008 State Dept [PDF format warning] report noted that there were an estimated 20 to 25 million Kurds world wide and that, "To varying degrees, Kurds have been persecuted in their countries." That's putting it mildly.

That is not to say X needs to be given or Y needs to be handed over. That is saying it's past time that the benchmarks and the Iraqi Constitution were followed. It's past time the issues were resolved. And if the US can't use its influence to see that an independent census is taken, that's one more reason (among the millions) for US forces to immediately come home. US forces do not need to be on the ground in Iraq if a civil war breaks out. As Joe Biden observered in April of 2007, being on the ground then would put them in the position of defending a government (Nouri's) that's neither legitimate nor popular and force them to take sides in a civil war.

Jamal al-Badrani (Reuters) reports that, as nothing is done regarding disputed territories, Kurds in Nineveh Province have issued statements threatening to secede.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4322 and tonight? 4327. Today the US military announced: "AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq – A Multi National Force – West Marine was killed in a combat-related incident as a result of enemy action here July 19. The Marine’s name is being withheld pending next-of-kin notification and release through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at"

In other reported violence . . .


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing (Abu Ghraib) claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more injured, a Baghdad sticky bomb claimed the life of Sahwa leader Mahmoud Abdullah and left a bystander injured and a Baghdad bombing left nine people injured. KUNA reports a grendade attack on police in Mosul which claimed the life of 1 and left two more injured.


KUNA reports 2 police officers were shot dead today in Mosul. Reuters drops back to Saturday to note 1 handicapped male was shot dead in Mosul and 1 supsect was shot dead in Mosul by US and Iraqi forces.


KUNA reports a "beheaded" corpse (male) was discovered in Mosul.

A little after 2:30 this afternoon (EST), the US State Dept's spokesperson Robert Wood released the following statement on the helicopter crash in Iraq Friday:

The Department of State is deeply saddened by the deaths of two employees of Xe Consulting during a helicopter crash in Iraq on July 17 and extends our heartfelt sympathies to their families. Our thoughts are also with the two men who were injured in this incident and their families. These men played an important role in assisting the Department in protecting American diplomats and missions in Iraq.
The Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security is coordinating with appropriate U.S. and Iraqi officials regarding an investigation into the cause of the crash.

Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reports that tensions are increasing between the Iraqi military and the US military over what the role of the US is in Iraq. File it under: One more reason all US troops need to be out of Iraq NOW.

Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) reports Nouri, who has been making disparging remarks about US service members lately, intends to visit Arlington Cementary while visiting the White House. Reportedly he plans to pay his 'respects' -- non-existant ones to judge by his recent remarks. She quotes Nouri al-Maliki's boy-toy Sami Askari declaring, ""The Democrats were in opposition to George Bush so they tended not to see his positive points, only to concentrate on the negative ones. So I think the prime minister needs to say this: That as a people, we are not ignoring what others did for us. Every Iraqi who goes to Washington needs to make clear that the war was not a failure." Save the fantasy talk for Nouri, Askari. Nouri made quite clear to Barack last summer what he thought of Bully Boy Bush. The idea that after running Bush down (no problem with that here), Nouri's now going to counsel Barack on the 'good' in George W.'s efforts is laughable. What's not being reported are rumors that Biden has scheduled a high-level meeting with Nouri and former Ba'athists for this visit. Those are rumors. When Biden visited Iraq, Nouri remainded non-committal to the idea and indicated he would weigh a meet up with Ba'athists and Arab neighbors. Shortly after Biden departed Iraq, Nouri began issuing fiery statements indicating otherwise.

While Nouri gears up for his visit, Iraq's Foreign Minister has already made it to DC. Alsumaria quotes Hoshyar Zebari stating:

We are here to have talks with the Secretary of State on Iraq-U.S. relations that have been embedded in blood and sacrifice. After the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) agreement on the withdrawal of troops, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities that was the first clear message and indicator that the United States is sincere in implementing its part of the bargain that we have reached. In fact, Iraq is moving forward with its recovery, both internally and regionally. We have expanded our relations with Arab countries, with our neighbors, with the rest of the world. And we are working now hard to get our country exiting chapter 7 regulations, something we need United States support and that of the permanent Security Council's, and I have a number of issues to discuss with the Secretary on where, how, how Iraq is progressing.


That visit took place Wednesday, July 15th, and Clinton's remarks delivered to the press were:

Well, today, I am welcoming Minister Zebari, foreign minister of Iraq, someone whom I have gotten to know, who I had a very excellent exchange of ideas with when I was in Iraq, and I'm looking forward to continuing that today. We are working closely together to support a stable, sovereign, and self-reliant Iraq. And we see so much progress occurring. We also want to work with Iraq to expand its relationships in the region, to ensure that its neighbors are once again working with and supporting Iraq's journey that is so important for the Iraqi people to the destination of a better future.
And I know that the foreign minister -- Prime Minister Maliki who was recently in Turkey, Minister Zebari, who just came from New York, are looking for the kind of support that comes not just from diplomats, but from business and investment people who see a real future as well in Iraq.
So we have a full plate. We're going to be discussing a broad range of issues and preparing for Prime Minister Maliki's visit in a week.

New content at Third:

Truest statement of the week
Truest statement of the week II
A note to our readers
Editorial: The lost land of Iraq
TV: Meet The Fockers
Issues effecting women veterans
Music roundtable
Meet the new Ramen
Theme of last week

Isaiah's latest goes up after this. Pru notes this from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

This article should be read after: » ‘Bring the troops home now’
British soldier interviewed: ‘I realised the Afghan war was wrong’

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton is 27 years old and has been in the army since 2004. For the last two years, after he was told that he would have to return to Afghanistan, Joe has been absent without leave and on the run. He spoke to Yuri Prasad about his experiences
‘In 2006 my regiment was posted to Afghanistan for seven months. And if I had to describe my feelings about the tour in one word, I would say “confused”.
We were never really told what was going on, and the whole campaign seemed to be suffering from “mission creep” – the goals just seemed to be changing all the time.
Around the time that we arrived in Afghanistan the fighting with the Taliban revived and it got pretty rough. I was based at Kandahar airport and although we weren’t on the front line, the base was attacked frequently.
My regiment was there to support Three Para with all their logistical needs. We were told that the British army was there to keep the peace. But we actually ran out of artillery shells because they were calling it forwards to the front lines in such large quantities.
There was so much shelling there were periods when we would work solidly for 20 or 30 hours at a time.
There was an undercurrent of fear as well. I was fighting alongside people that ranged from just 18 years old to guys in the their mid-40s. We were hit by mortars and rockets.
Luckily, I never had to see one of my colleagues injured but the constant shelling does have an effect on people. A lot of guys, especially the younger ones, really struggled to cope.
Afghan people were attacking us, even though our politicians said we were going in to help them. It came as a real shock. We kept asking ourselves, why are they doing this? That’s when I became aware that there was something seriously wrong with the war.
Initially we were told that we were in Afghanistan to put an end to the opium crop. Then we were told that it was to rebuild infrastructure. Then it was about bringing democracy – but none of this really seems to have happened.
Maybe there was an initial plan, but it kind of snowballed. By the end of my tour it was attrition and war fighting.
That had a massive impact on the Afghan civilian population who were put in a lot of danger. There’s no way you can fight a war without ordinary people getting caught up in it.
When I got back from my tour of Afghanistan I was quite shaken by the whole experience. But there’s a definite feeling running through the army that they just expect you to get on with it no matter what’s happened to you.
While I was still struggling to come to terms with my experiences in Afghanistan and adjusting to returning home, I was promoted and posted to another regiment. And from that point on things started to go very wrong.
I was singled out by a senior officer who started bullying me – and there is very little support for someone in the army who finds themselves in that position. I tried to go through the army’s formal procedure but it didn’t resolve the problem.
I realised at this point that I could no longer trust my chain of command. I felt like a victim of the “old boys’ club”.
Around the same time I was told that my regiment wanted to deploy me to Afghanistan again – even though this is against the harmony guidelines which stipulate a minimum time between tours of duty.
I’d only been back in Britain for about six or seven months.
At that point I decided that to protect myself my only course of action was to go absent. I was having some kind of a breakdown and I got away as far as I could to Asia, where I knew I could live cheaply for a couple of months.
My initial plan was to stay there for a while then come back to Britain and prepare to be courts martialed and kicked out of the army – but I just couldn’t deal with it.
So I pushed on to Australia, stayed there for two years on a working visa and met my now wife. Together we decided that I should come back and deal with things.
Fast track
I’ve handed myself into the army, and I’m now on a fast track courts martial. As far as the army is concerned I’m guilty and it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through.
They’ve just upped the charge against me from absent without leave to desertion. In the worst case scenario I face two years in a civilian jail.
Meanwhile, the politicians who send us to Afghanistan don’t even seem prepared to spend the money that’s needed to keep us safe.
Looking at the way the war has developed, I don’t think Britain is doing any good there and I think our troops should come out.
All we’re doing now is stacking up casualties. The Afghan people will probably go with whoever is winning, and right now we’re not.’
The following should be read alongside this article: »
‘Bring the troops home now’» Quagmire deepens for Britain in Afghanistan» Afghan war brings political fallout
If you would like to send a message to Joe, email and we will forward it to him
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