Thursday, July 02, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, July 2, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad sees renewed violence, Joe Biden visits Iraq, Odierno reveals US troops really aren't out of Iraqi cities, and more.
Despite the for-show hype, US troops haven't really pulled out of Iraqi cities.  That revelation came from the top US commander in Iraq when he was being interviewed by Judy Woodruff for yesterday's NewsHour (PBS):
GEN. RAY ODIERNO: Well, what we have is we have U.S. forces in joint coordination centers all over Iraq, inside of the cities, and they are there doing training, advising, assisting, and they also are coordinating with the Iraqis. So we have these relationships that are built from the lowest levels up to the highest levels that allow us to communicate. And if they need assistance, they can ask, and we will provide that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So they're not technically out of the cities. They're still there, but they're working side by side with the Iraqis?

GEN. RAY ODIERNO: That's right, but we're at much lower numbers. These are just small advisory and coordination cells, and they're not related to combat formation, such as brigades and battalions. Those are now outside the cities. But we have coordination cells that work very closely with the Iraqis to enable them and train them and advise them and coordinate with them.
Technically?  That's right, Odierno immediately agrees.  The non-change was the subject on NPR's Morning Edition earlier today:
David Greene: So 130,000 that's a big number -- the  number of US forces remaining in these forward operating bases outside the cities and we'll probably be there until next fall. What exactly does this withdrawal mean?  Is anything really different?
Thomas E. Ricks: I don't think it really is that different. I think politicians are trying to make more of it, especially Iraqi politicians, then is really warranted here.  American troops are going to continue to fight in Iraq, they're going to continue to die in Iraq.  In fact, I suspect, in the areas around Baghdad, the so-called 'belts,'  you're going to see some real fighting this summer.
David Greene: One of the Iraqi politicians you're speaking of is probably Nouri al-Maliki.  He's made some pretty significant pronouncements of optimism saying, 'We've got this covered.'  Let's play out a scenario, if things don't go that well in the city, can he reach out and say to the Americans, 'I need you back?'
Thomas E. Ricks: He can pull the Americans back and, in fact, that's happened several times.  This is not the first time the Americans have tried to transfer security responsibility to Iraqi forces.  We tried it several times, it hasn't worked several times.  Now we look back and say, 'Well that was a rush to failure.' So the question now is: Are Iraqi forces up to the job? And the answer is: nobody knows.
David E. Greene: You joined us on this program back in March and you said at the time you thought we might be half-way through this war.  Is that about still where we are?
Thomas E. Ricks: Yeah.  I might have been a bit optimistic.
David E. Green: Optimistic?
Thomas E. Ricks: Yeah, I think we have a lot longer road ahead of us in Iraq than anybody in this country seems to think.  It worries me that Americans have turned their eyes away from Iraq and have almost gotten bored with it.  The old 1960s slogan was: What if they gave a war and nobody came?   Now we're in a situation: What if they gave a war and nobody paid attention? 

David Greene: A lot of Americans would be shocked to hear we're less than half-way through this war Certainly President Obama seems to be sending a different message.  You also said something about the president.  You said that Iraq was going to change Obama more than Obama changes Iraq.  Uh, what's your sense so far?  Have you seen him adapting since taking office?

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, yeah.  I think in fact, he has broken more campaign promises on Iraq than on any other area.  He campaigned saying he would take a brigade out a month from the day he took office instead he's keeping troop levels about where they were during the entire Bush administration.  Instead of getting out quickly, he's actually is looking at getting out rather slowly.  Bush said the mission was accomplished when it wasn't and Obama's saying we're going to get the combat troops out.  Well guess what?  There are no non-combat troops in the US military. There is no pacifist wing in the military.
David Greene: So what does that mean when he says get the combat troops out?
Thomas E. Ricks: It's a meaningless phrase.  Either you have troops there or you don't. If American troops are there, they will be involved in combat.  In fact, American troops who are advisers to Iraqi units are going to be vulnerable.
Not all politicians are attempting to spin this into another wave of Operation Happy Talk. US House Rep Dennis Kucinich explained the reality of the 'pull-back':
The withdrawal of some U.S. combat troops from Iraq's cities is welcome and long overdue news.  However, it is important to remember that this is not the same as a withdrawal of U.S. troops and contractors from Iraq.     
U.S. troop combat missions throughout Iraq are not scheduled to end until more than a year from now in August of 2010.  In addition, U.S. troops are not scheduled for a complete withdrawal for another two and a half years on December 31, 2011.  Rather, U.S. troops are leaving Iraqi cities for military bases in Iraq.  They are still in Iraq, and they can be summoned back at any time.   
This is not a great victory for peace.  On May 19, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Iraqi and U.S. military officials virtually redrew the city limits of Baghdad in order to consider the Army's Forward Operation Base Falcoln as outside the city, despite every map of Baghdad clearly showing it wih in city limits.  In afact, according to Section 24.3 of the "SOFA" U.S. troops can remain at any agreed upon facility.  The reported reason for this decision is to ensure U.S. troops are able to "help maintain security in south Baghdad alon gwhat were the fault lines in the sectarian war."
This troop movement should not be confused with a troop withdrawal from Iraq.  In reality, this is a small step toward Iraqi sovereignty as Iraqi security forces begin assuming greater control over security operations, but it is a long way from independence and a withdrawal of the U.S. military presence.
Also issuing statements were insurgent and resistance leaders.  Campbell Robertson (New York Times) reports that they issued statements which "all commanded Iraqis to continue fighting the American military until it has left the country completely; nearly 130,000 troops remain.  The statements also insisted, in unusually clear language, that Iraqis not turn their violence on one another."
Meanwhile Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq.  The White House released the following statement, "Vice President Biden has arrived in Iraq to visit U.S. troops and to meet with Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Ayad al-Samarrai.  The Vice President will reiterate the United States' commitment to fully implement the Security Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement and to carry out President Obama's plan to draw down US forces.  He will discuss with Iraq's leaders the importance of achieving the political progress that is necessary to ensure the nation's long-term stability.  This is Vice President Biden's second trip to Iraq this year and his first as Vice President."  The Vice President's oldest son, Beau Biden, is serving in Iraq as a member of Delaware's Army National Guard.  Mark Silva (Chicago Tribune) notes that it is "a two-day series of meetings" for Vice President Biden who "was greeted at Baghdad International Airport by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi and Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of American forces there."
In Baghdad today, violence 'returned.'  Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and wounded ten people including two more Iraqi soldiers.  Patrick Quinn (AP) adds, "The attack occurred near a bridge that controls access to the walled-off Green Zone in central Baghdad." Quinn also notes 2 dead and fifteen injured from a Baghdad car bombing. Aseel Kami, Michael Christie and Charles Dick (Reuters) report that Iraqi police claim it is the first Baghdad bombing since Tuesday but that it is "not immediately possible to verify the claim that the bomb was the first but no major incidents were reported in Baghdad on Wednesday."  Alice Fordham (Times of London) adds, "Despite concerns, the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad have already begun a policy of reopening closing roads, reducing the number of fixed checkpoints and removing the concrete barriers that have long dominated the Baghdad streetscape. "
In other reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured two people, a Baghdad car bombing claimed 2 lives and left fifteen people injured and Falluja roadside bombing targeted an Iraq military officer but killed his driver ("The officer was not in the car").  Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing injured three people, a Yusufiya car bombing claimed 2 lives and left fifteen people injured, an Al-Zab car bombing claimed 1 life and injured six people and a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and and left two others injured.. 
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Kirkuk.  Reuters notes 1 person was shot dead in Mosul and 1 Iraqi "army major" was shot dead in Kirkuk.
Those following the oil industry can refer to Tamsin Carlisle's "Iraq seeks plan B after auction" (The National):

Iraq said yesterday its state oil companies would manage and exploit two gasfields and possibly one oilfield that failed to attract acceptable bids from foreign companies in the country's first post-war oil and gas licensing round.
Baghdad also rejected further offers it received after the close on Tuesday of a televised auction of service contracts for work on six of the country's biggest oilfields and the two gasfields.
"The offers from the foreign companies were rejected by the government," said Ali al Dabbagh, a government spokesman. "If they want the oilfields they have to match the prices offered by the ministry of oil."

Reporters who are handmaidens to Big Oil have repeatedly attempted to play the events as a failure. Iraq doesn't need foreigners to reap millions on oil. If they're not happy with the bidding, they don't have to award contracts. There's a Western attitude of "you must" that Iraq fails to respond to (no surprise, that's been the case for Iraq historically). "Emboldened by what Iraqi oil officials are calling a successful first oil-licensing round this week," Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports, "the oil ministry is to move up a second auction that was to be held at the end of this year for 11 oil and natural-gas fields." As Chon explains, Big Oil was the one who "balked" in the auction. AFP quotes Nouri al-Maliki declaring, ""Some companies succeeded, others did not. The oil ministry will think about how to exploit the oil resources of Iraq." Repeating: Big Oil removed itself from the process (kind of the way Barack took his name off the Michigan ballot -- maybe Big Oil thought the DNC 'Rules' Committee would award it contracts regardless?). Big Oil's Pimp Sheila McNulty (Financial Times of London) spins it as a win for Chevron: "The US oil company did not even bid for one of the highly touted contracts. While Chevron is not saying anything about what kept it out of the race, an industry source says the world's third biggest oil company decided the terms being offered were too unfavorable for the company to make money."  Meanwhile Vivienne Walt (TIME magazine) notes the hesitation to bid on Kirkuk fields in the past:
Until now, major oil companies such as Chevron and ExxonMobil have stayed out of investing in the Kurdish zone for fear that investing there might prompt Baghdad to blacklist them from bidding for the far larger fields down South. But those fears have diminished as the stalemate in parliament over oil has dragged on. Big Oil might also be emboldened to make deals on oil fields in the Kurdish areas since last week, when the Chinese oil giant Sinopec announced that it was acquiring the Swiss oil company Addax Petroleum, which operates in Iraqi Kurdistan. "It will be much more difficult to blacklist Sinopec," says Yousni. "This is China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, not some small oil company," he says. Having dared to take on Baghdad, China has increased the Kurds' ability to become an autonomous economic power, and perhaps allowed other companies to follow suit. "The Chevrons and Exxons of this world can now do the same, and go into Kurdish fields." For now, some may see that as a safer bet than the riches on offer, at a steeper price and risk, further south.
 In yesterday's snapshot, we noted Josh Drobnyk's "Iraq war veteran will lead effort to reverse 'don't ask, don't tell'" (Los Angeles Times) but we'll return to it to note this:

With Murphy, 35, the Democratic leadership has an aggressive two-term lawmaker who in 2006 was the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress. A former prosecutor and West Point professor, Murphy was a captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
He said he anticipated a struggle to rally enough support to bring the bill to the floor. "This is going to take months and months, but change is going to happen."
The legislation's prospects are similarly uncertain in the Senate, where Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from a brain tumor, is expected to take the lead.
Opponents are readying their own fight, arguing that gays' open service would hurt national security.

It goes on to quote hag, you know who we mean. Monday's snapshot noted Senator Roland Burris' commitment to work with Kennedy on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. While that's wonderful that Burris has shown the courage to step up on this issue, Kennedy's not only suffering from a tumor, he's also got his hands on the health care. Burris needs a senior senator to work with and it's past time someone stepped up to the plate. This can't wait for Ted Kennedy to finish working on health care, it needs to be addressed now.

Iraq War veteran Anthony Woods is running for Congress, he was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Kel Munger (Sacramento News & Review) spoke with him (and I've added their names before they speak to make it easier to follow):

Kel Munger: So you were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Did they ask or did you tell?

Anthony Woods: I told. I reached the point where I had fully accepted who I was, and the more I thought about it, the more I understood that it was not right at all to lie about who I was. I was on the honor committee at West Point. I was raised with regular American values and taught that it's not right to lie in any context. As I started to think about it more and more, it baffled me that we had a policy in place that was the law of the land that required every member of the GLBT community who served to lie.

Kel Munger: There's something fundamentally wrong with that, especially in our country. It's unacceptable.

Anthony Woods: That compelled me to be honest with my commander. And because of the law, she was required -- whether she wanted to or not -- to launch an investigation into my background to confirm the truth of the matter. I had to provide her with lists of names of people who knew me and knew I was gay. After a six-month investigation, I was honorably discharged. I was asked to repay the tuition that the Army had paid for at West Point, which was about $35,000.

Kel Munger: How many years had you given the military? You'd already done two tours in Iraq, right?

Anthony Woods: When I was discharged, I'd served just a little over five years. After grad school, I was going to do five more years.

[. . .]

Kel Munger: And what about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which is kind of where we started this conversation?

Anthony Woods: Think of all the straight soldiers who are left in the unit now who are going into battle with one less person on their side, one less resource for their unit. Look at my friend Dan Choi, for example. He's an Arab linguist, speaks Arabic fluently. Now his unit has to go to war without translator. They're less effective at doing their job and they're more at risk while they try to do it. It simply doesn't make sense to take talented, competent people who want to do their job and remove them and send everyone else off to war without them. Or we could talk about the $400 million it has cost us to implement "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." That would buy a lot of body armor and a lot of armored Humvees. Instead, we've got a net benefit of zero.

Dan Choi is fighting for his military career. Tuesday an army board recommended he be dischared. Catherine Philip (Times of London) reports:

An Iraq war veteran has been ordered out of the US military after publicly announcing his homosexuality in a direct challenge to the army's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Lieutenant Dan Choi, who speaks fluent Arabic, outed himself in March in the military journal Army Times and on national television at the launch of Knights Out, an association representing gay and lesbian graduates of West Point military academy.
He said that his declaration was a protest against a policy that forced soldiers to lie in order to serve their country. "It's an immoral code that goes against every single thing we were ever taught at West Point with our honour code," he said.
And from ETAN:

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras)

Joint Statement on Accountability in the Run-up to the Indonesian Presidential Elections

As Indonesia prepares for its second direct presidential election on July 8th, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras) together urge the Indonesian government, its citizens, and the international community to highlight past human rights violations and to push the next Indonesian administration to end impunity for human rights violators.

We are especially concerned about the well-documented human rights records of some of the candidates, including vice presidential candidates Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto. Prabowo, vice-presidential candidate for Megawati Sukarnoputri, was commander of Indonesia's special forces unit Kopassus from 1995 to 1998. Under his command, Kopassus kidnapped and disappeared a group of student activists during the last part of the dictator Suharto's rule. For this, he was later forced to retire by a military court. He also presided over brutal actions by Kopassus in occupied East Timor, including the torture, kidnapping and killings of independence supporters.

Wiranto, vice-presidential candidate for Jusuf Kalla, was commander of Indonesia's military during the tumultuous period of 1998 and 1999, when Suharto was pushed from power by widespread demonstrations and elite disillusionment with his rule. The military and its militias wreaked havoc in East Timor during its vote for independence. For his role, Wiranto was indicted for crimes against humanity by the UN-backed serious crimes process.

Kontras and ETAN are concerned that should either of these candidates assume office, their past crimes will impede the next president's ability to satisfactorily resolve outstanding cases of human rights violations by Indonesia's security forces and hinder the critical movement toward military reform and accountability. Almost certainly Wiranto and Prabowo's own impunity would continue for human rights and war crimes.
Under the current Yudhoyono administration, progress in the major human rights cases has been halting at best and military reform efforts have stalled. Also a former general, he has shown only a limited commitment to expanding human rights. Human rights violations have escalated in Papua. The involvement of the highest levels of the government's intelligence agency in the assassination of human rights activist Munir, who was murdered just prior to Yudhoyono taking office, has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. President Yudhoyono once declared the Munir case a "test case for whether Indonesia has changed."

As the legal process has stalled in a number of important cases, the installation of a presidential team which respects human rights and can inject new momentum into these cases is critical. The international community can greatly assist efforts for genuine accountability and military reform by restricting military assistance to Indonesia. Together Indonesia's government, its citizens, and the international community must push for human rights accountability no matter who assumes office.


Usman Hamid (Indonesia) +62 811 812 149
John M. Miller (United States) +1-718-596-7668; +1-917-690-4391

Komisi Untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (KontraS)
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

Pernyataan bersama tentang akuntabilitas dalam pemilihan presiden Indonesia

Seiring dengan persiapan Indonesia menghadapi pemilihan presiden langsung keduanya pada 8 Juli 2009, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) dan Komisi untuk orang hilang dan korban tindak kekerasan (KontraS), bersama mendorong pemerintah Indonesia, warganya, dan komunitas internasional untuk mengingat pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia (HAM) di masa lampau dan untuk mendorong pemerintah Indonesia agar mengakhiri impunitas pelanggaran HAM.

Kami sangat prihatin dengan catatan HAM- yang terdokumentasikan dengan baik- dari beberapa kandidat, termasuk kandidat Wakil Presiden Prabowo Subianto dan Wiranto. Prabowo, kandidat Wakil Presiden untuk Megawati Sukarnoputri, adalah komandan komando pasukan khusus (Kopassus) dari tahun 1995-1998. Dibawah pimpinannya, Kopassus menculik dan menghilangkan sekelompok aktivis mahasiswa pada masa akhir kepemimpinan diktator Suharto. Karena ini, ia dipaksa untuk pensiun oleh pengadilan militer. Ia juga terlibat dalam tindakan brutal Kopassus di wilayah okupasi Timor Timur, termasuk penyiksaan, penculikan dan pembunuhan terhadap pendukung kemerdekaan.

Wiranto, kandidat Wakil Presiden untuk Jusuf Kalla, adalah Panglima Angkatan Bersenjata pada masa bergejolak 1998-1999, ketika Suharto dijatuhkan dari kekuasaan oleh demonstrasi yang meluas dan disilusi elit pada kekuasaannya. Militer dan milisinya melancarkan kekacauan di Timor Timur pada masa referendum kemerdekaan. Untuk perannya ini, Wiranto dituduh kejahatan atas HAM melalui proses peradilan kejahatan serius yang disokong oleh PBB.

Kontras dan ETAN prihatin bila salah satu kandidat ini berhasil menang, maka kejahatan masa lalu mereka akan menghalangi kemampuan presiden selanjutnya untuk menyelesaikan kasus kasus besar pelanggaran HAM masa lalu yang dilakukan oleh angkatan bersenjata Indonesia, serta menghalangi gerakan kritis terhadap reformasi militer dan akuntabilitas. Hampir dipastikan impunitas Wiranto dan Prabowo akan terus berlangsung dalam pelanggaran HAM dan kejahatan perang.

Dibawah pemerintahan Yudhoyono yang sedang berjalan, perkembangan kasus-kasus HAM besar terhambat dan upaya reformasi militer tersendat. Sebagai mantan Jendral, ia menunjukkan komitmen terbatas dalam penegakkan HAM. Pelanggaran HAM meningkat di Papua. Keterlibatan pejabat tinggi badan intelijen pemerintah dalam pembunuhan aktivis HAM, Munir, yang terbunuh beberapa saat setelah Yudhoyono memangku jabatan, belum terselesaikan secara memuaskan. Presiden Yudhoyono pernah mengatakan "kasus Munir adalah suatu batu ujian seberapa besar Indonesia telah berubah."

Seiring terhentinya proses hukum beberapa kasus penting, pembentukan pasangan presiden yang menghargai HAM dan bisa menyuntikan momentum baru pada kasus ini adalah kritis. Komunitas internasional dapat membantu upaya upaya menegakkan akuntabilitas sejati dan reformasi militer dengan membatasi bantuan militer ke Indonesia. Bersama-sama, pemerintah Indonesia, warganya, dan komunitas internasional harus mendorong akuntabilitas HAM, terlepas siapapun yang memangku jabatan.


ETAN welcomes your financial support. Go to to donate. Thanks.

John M. Miller
National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
PO Box 21873, Brooklyn, NY 11202-1873 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Skype: john.m.miller