Tuesday, July 28, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Defense Secretary visits Iraq, Nouri launches an attack on civilians at Camp Ashraf, Baghdad loses millions in a bank robbery, and more.
Today Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reveals that, oh, US troops? Still patrolling. US troops are patrolling in Mosul. The 'pull-back' was for-show as was Nouri al-Maliki's no-no-we-don't-want-US-troops-in-Mosul. The largest question Gatehouse's report raises is why the BBC is the one breaking the news? Don't several US papers have staff in Baghdad?
He's not patrolling (and he's hopefully not editing copying) but US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Iraq today. As always, it was an unannounced visit. They keep splashing waves of Operation Happy Talk but the US officials still can't visit Iraq openly. Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes) reports that the press was told about the visit on Friday by someone at the Defense Dept and quotes the unnamed person telling them, "The purpose of going to Talil is so the secretary can get an understanding of the advisory and assistance brigades that are sort of being developed. This is what eventually we will be left with when we have a transitional force come September 2010." Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) is part of the press traveling with Gates and notes this his first visit to Iraq for 2009 -- seven months in, rather sad -- and that he plans to visit with both Nouri al-Maliki (puppet of the occupation) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq). She also notes Gates will be playing an Amway salesman for US defense contractors as he meets with Iraqi officials to discuss "whether the U.S. will sell Iraq any F-16 fighter jets." Jim Wolf (Reuters) reports it more bluntly: "One of the topics they are expected to discuss is Baghdad's interest in acquiring Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) F-16 multirole fighter jets to counter possible threats from neighbouring nations after U.S. forces leave." And he will visit Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani. Al Bawaba reports that Gates' visit as 8 security guards were killed in a Baghdad bank robbery. AFP places the amount stolen at $3.8 million (US dollars). Gates was greeted with a parade. Well . . . a protest. Aljazeera reports followers of Moqtada al-Sadr staged a demonstration chanting "NO, NO TO AMERICA!" BBC reports, "At a news conference after his talks in Baghdad, Mr Gates side-stepped a question about whether some US forces might stay on beyond a 2011 deadline for withdrawal. The issue, he said, was best left until the end of 2010 or even 2011."
Whose funding the so-called "insurgents" in Iraq? For years General David Petraeus, Robert Gates and assorted others have insisted it was the government of Iran. Turns out, it may be the US. Free Speech Radio News explained yesterday:
Andrew Stelzer: The US Agency for Intenational Development, or USAID, has suspended a $644 million dollar program in Iraq because of two reviews indicating a portion of the money was ending up in the hands of insurgents and going to fund jobs that didn't exist. The government hired the Virginia-based International Relief and Development to run the public works job creation program. Former employees told USA Today that documents were faked and projects that didn't exist were included in progress reports.
Ken Dilanian (USA Today) explains the program "was designed to tamp down the insurgency by paying Iraqi cash to do public work projects such as trash removal and ditch digging." So the US government, not the Iranian one, has been funding the so-called 'insurgency.' Government officials in Iran are no doubt happy by another development. Nouri al-Maliki did their bidding today. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Camp Ashraf, to the north of Baghdad, was raided today by Iraqi forces who "used batons, hoses, pepper spray and sound grenades during the raid at Camp Ashraf, home to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq [approximately 3500 people]. The raid came a day after the Iraqi government announced it would assume complete responsibility of the camp and vowed to 'protest the people inside the base'." You can't trust Nouri. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran is stating that "Peyman Kord-Amir, artist and singer, is in coma right now due to severe blows to his head." They note 2,000 Iraqi forces were sent in and they note that following the 300 wounded and the 4 dead, residents of Camp Ashraf have started a hunger strike and have issued a list of demands which include the immediate removal of Iraqi forces and the freeing of prisoners, returning protection responsibilities for the camp to the US, allowing attorneys and human rights organizations into the camp. Nouri's bag boy Ali al-Dabbagh insists to UPI, The entrance of the Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf is not a break-in but rather a well-coordinated operation to stabilize the security situation inside the camp." AFP is reporting that 150 were injured as Iraqi forces stormed the camp. Until recently, the US had been protecting the camp. Before the start of the illegal war, the Iranians were allowed in the country by Saddam Hussein. Nouri's close ties to Iran include the many years where his cowardly streak found him living there because it took to much strength and courage to fight to overthrow a government he didn't believe in. Much better to hide like a coward and wait for the US military to do so. AFP quotes US Gen Ray Odierno insisting the US had no prior knowledge of the assault: "We didn't know they were going to do this." Really? After May when Nouri ordered what was obviously the trial run for the assault, no one suspected? When he sent Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf May 28th, no one had a clue?
Barack Obama's administration has failed. Following the election, they knew this was one of the issues that the previous administration would be dumping in their laps and they knew it was time sensitive. They refused to seriously address it and, in fact, took the promises of thug Nouri at face value in order to be done with the matter and wash their hands clean. They knew this was a serious issue and instead of treating it seriously, they passed the buck. On an issue that was early on desginated as "a litmus test" regarding Barack's dedication to human rights.
August 8, 2004, the US Embassy in Baghdad [PDF format warning] sent a report by John Negroponte which noted:
(D) PROTECTED PERSON: THE MUJAHIDDEN-E-KHALQ
32. (U) 3,839 members and former members of the USG-designated foreign terrorist organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) are currently resident at Camp Ashraf in Diyala Province under Coalition guard and protection.
33. (U) MF-I has designated these 3,839 individuals as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and considers the restrictions placed on MEK travel outside the compound and on visitor entry as "measures of control and security" permitted under Article 27 of IVGC.
34. (U) Those 74 residents of Camp Ashraf who are citizens or legal residents of third countries are permitted to repatriate with the approval of their respective governments. MNF-I and Post are currently facilitating a number of possible repatriations.
35. (U) IRC has been invited to vist Camp Ashraf to conduct individual interviews with the residents of the Camp. It is expected that these interviews may result in ICRC's recommendation that UNHCR make a determination of refugee status in many cases.
The term "terrorist" may be applied to the group. That was being re-evaluated by the US government (prior to the assault). Already this year England and the European Union took the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq off their list of terrorists groups. If "terrorist" is used, don't let that distract from the fact that this was a camp for exiles, that children were present during the assault. In March 2008, the International Red Cross' Juan-Pedro Schaerer explained, "The main responsibility to protect civilians lies with the States that have effective control over them -- in this case, the governments of the United States and of Iraq have to find a suitable solution in accordance with international law and relevant provisions of national law. Our main concern is to ensure that the authorities meet these obligations. In particular, they must always protect the lives, the physical and moral integrity and the dignity of those concerned. Morevoer, should anyone in Ashraf be suspected or accused of committing criminal offences, judicial guarantees must be respected as provided for in international law." The residents of the camp had rights. Those rights were not respected and the camp was assaulted. April 20th, Amnesty International issued "Iraq: concerns regarding the future of Camp Ashraf resident:"
Amnesty International has written directly to the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki about recent developments relating to the more than 3,000 Iranian exiles currently living in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, who Iraqi officials have said should leave the country. The Iranians are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).
In particular, Amnesty International expressed concern at a recent statement reportedly made in an interview with al-Forat, an Iraqi TV channel, by National Security Advisor Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, in which he said that the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable". Shortly after this, possibly in a related development, a team of medical doctors were denied access to the Camp for several days. One purpose of their visit was reportedly to provide treatment to a woman in the Camp in need of surgery for an internal cancerous tumour. The doctors were later allowed into the camp.
In its letter, Amnesty International urged the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities that violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the government's intentions towards them in the light of Dr al-Rubaie's reported threat to make their lives "intolerable." Amnesty International has previously called on the Iraqi government to ensure that none of the Camp Ashraf residents or other Iranian dissidents are forcibly returned to Iran in view of fears that they would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations there.
The PMOI is an Iranian opposition organization and many of its members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the organization was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union (EU) and governments of non-EU states, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US forces provided protection for the Ashraf Camp residents, who were designated as "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions. This situation has apparently been discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments which came into force on 1 January 2009, although the SOFA does not make any reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. The Iranian government is said to be putting pressure on Iraq to expel the PMOI members and supporters from Iraq.
Amnesty International wasn't the only one raising concerns. April 24th the European Parliament adopted the following resolution:
The European Parliament,
- having regard to the Geneva Conventions and notably Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,
- having regard to the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto,
- having regard to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraqi Governments, signed in November 2008,
- having regard to its resolution of 12 July 2007 on the humanitarian situation of Iraqi refugees(1) and its resolution of 4 September 2008 on executions in Iran(2), which include references to Camp Ashraf residents having legal status as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention,
-having regard to Rule 115(5) of its Rules of Procedure,
A.- whereas Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq was established during the 1980s for members of the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI),
B.- whereas in 2003 US forces in Iraq disarmed Camp Ashraf's residents and provided them with protection, those residents having been designated "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions,
C.- whereas in a letter dated 15 October 2008 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iraqi Government to protect Camp Ashraf residents from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation in violation of the non-refoulement principle, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security,
D.- whereas following the conclusion of the US/Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, control of Camp Ashraf was transferred to the Iraqi security forces as of 1 January 2009,
E.- whereas, according to recent statements reportedly made by the Iraqi National Security Advisor, the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable", and whereas he reportedly also referred to their expulsion/extradition and/or their forcible displacement inside Iraq,
1.- Urges the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities which violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the Iraqi government's intentions towards them; calls on the Iraqi authorities to protect the lives and the physical and moral integrity of the Camp Ashraf residents and to treat them in accordance with obligations under the Geneva Conventions, in particular by refraining from forcibly displacing, deporting, expelling or repatriating them in violation of the principle of non-refoulement;
2.- Respecting the individual wishes of anyone living in Camp Ashraf as regards his or her future, considers that those living in Camp Ashraf and other Iranian nationals who currently reside in Iraq having left Iran for political reasons could be at risk of serious human rights violations if they were to be returned involuntarily to Iran, and insists that no person should be returned, either directly or via a third country, to a situation where he or she would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights abuses;
3.- Calls on the Iraqi Government to end its blockade of the camp, to respect the legal status of the Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security, i.e. to afford them full access to food, water, medical care and supplies, fuel, family members and international humanitarian organisations;
4.- Calls on the Council, the Commission and the Member States, together with the Iraqi and US Governments, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to work towards finding a satisfactory long-term legal status for Camp Ashraf residents;
5.- Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Government of the United States of America and the Government and Parliament of Iraq.
The issue was debate by the UK House of Lords at the start of this month with the Labour Party Whip repeatedly assuring that England was on the issue and conveying this message to the Iraqi government and that message, and monitoring and they have "sought assurances" and received them. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about the assault and responded, "We've seen these media reports and we're looking into them. As you know, the government of Iraq has assumed responsibility -- security responsibility -- for Camp Ashraf and its residents. We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq's written assurance that it will treat the residents there humanely. This is in accordance with the constitutional laws and the international obligations of Iraq and the government has stated to us that no Camp Ashraf resident will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution on the basis of their political beliefs, poitical opinions or religious beliefs or whether there are substantial grounds for believing they would be tortured."
While Nouri, if Odierno is correct, ignores the US, they continue to cater to him. July 9th, five Iranian diplomats were released. Or were they? Apparently, four were released but the fifth was something else and the US military used the diplomats release to sneak the non-diplomat out. Bill Roggio (Long War Journal) reports:
The US had previously released two members of the Irbil Five in November 2007, according to The Associated Press, but the report received little attention. This "left room for Farhadi to be pawned off as one of the Irbil Five and snuck out the back door," one official told The Long War Journal.
The US captured Farhadi during a raid in the northern Kurdish province of Sulimaniyah on Sept. 20, 2007 [see LWJ report, Captured Iranian Qods Force officer a regional commander in Iraq].
Farhadi's detention caused a row between Iran and Iraq. Iran closed the border after claiming Farhadi was an Iranian trade delegation representative named Agha Farhadi who was visiting Iraq on a sanctioned business trip.
Why would they worry? Why would they hide Farhadi's release? Because Barack Obama has a large and growing problem with military families over a stunt pulled without explanation last month. From the June 9th snapshot:
This morning the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin and Michael Gordon offered "U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.'s." Martin Chulov (Guardian) covered the same story, Kim Gamel (AP) reported on it, BBC offered "Kidnap hope after Shia's handover" and Deborah Haynes contributed "Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant" (Times of London). The basics of the story are this. 5 British citizens have been hostages since May 29, 2007. The US military had in their custody Laith al-Khazali. He is a member of Asa'ib al-Haq. He is also accused of murdering five US troops. The US military released him and allegedly did so because his organization was not going to release any of the five British hostages until he was released. This is a big story and the US military is attempting to state this is just diplomacy, has nothing to do with the British hostages and, besides, they just released him to Iraq. Sami al-askari told the New York Times, "This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners. So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages. And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned." In other words, a prisoner was traded for hostages and they attempted to not only make the trade but to lie to people about it. At the US State Dept, the tired and bored reporters were unable to even broach the subject. Poor declawed tabbies. Pentagon reporters did press the issue and got the standard line from the department's spokesperson, Bryan Whitman, that the US handed the prisoner to Iraq, the US didn't hand him over to any organization -- terrorist or otherwise. What Iraq did, Whitman wanted the press to know, was what Iraq did. A complete lie that really insults the intelligence of the American people. CNN reminds the five US soldiers killed "were: Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, California; 1st Lt. Jacob N. Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Nebraska; Spc. Johnathan B. Chism, 22, of Gonzales, Louisiana; Pfc. Shawn P. Falter, 25, of Cortland, New York; and Pfc. Johnathon M. Millican, 20, of Trafford, Alabama." Those are the five from January 2007 that al-Khazali and his brother Qais al-Khazali are supposed to be responsible for the deaths of.
That was a trade which was supposed to lead to the release of five British hostages. Two were released, their corpses. Earlier this month, Kim Howells, former Foreign Office Minister in the UK, told BBC that "he doubts Britain negotiated with the right people in its attempts to free five men kidnapped in Iraq." Howells: "I'm not convinced we were ever negotating with the right people. I mean, that's doubtful. The only real proof of life that I saw were the video. And there were stories circulating that a suicide had taken place, there were deadlines that came and went." And all of that goes to why the US would sneak out a prisoner.
Turning to other reported violence today . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad motorcycle bombing which claimed 8 lives and left seventeen injured and a two Baghdad roadside bombings which left four people injured. Reuters notes a Baghdad cafe bombing which claimed 2 lives and left fifteen injured.
Meanwhile, remember how Iraq was assuming control of paying Sahwa (also known as "Awakening" and "Sons Of Iraq")? Remember that spin started in November and we've had several other key 'dates' since. Well the US military announces today that the Iraqi government paid some members of Sahwa today in Kirkuk for . . the month of May. Handing out payments, Iraqi Lt Col Afrain declared, "This payment is for May. We have to work on solutions to the pay problem." Yes, you do. And, no, it's not a surprise, it's not something new and it's nothing your government shouldn't have been planning for some time ago.
Yesterday's snapshot included: " Deborah Haynes (Times of London) reports British troops will likely have to leave Iraq as a result of the Parliament failing to ratify the bilateral agreement between England and Iraq 'Bob Ainsworth, the British Defence Secretary, said that the naval training personnel would wait in Kuwait until they were given permission to return. It is an embarrassment to Britain, however, and an illustration of the low regard in which its role in Iraq -- it once had 45,000 troops based there -- is held'." Today the Telegraph of London quotes British Embassy spokesperson Jawwad Syed declaring, "The guys who were doing the training are temporarily moving out to Kuwait while we talk to the Iraqi government about what we might do in the interim." CNN reports that "about a dozen helping to train Iraqi police as part of a NATO mission" will remain. They also state it was the al-Sadr bloc in Parliament that kept the agreement from being voted on. "Our story begins," writes Babak Rahmi (Foreign Policy) in an article on Moqtada al-Sadr's rise, "in the summer 2007, when Sadr first dabbled in getting the extra credentials. The idea came after an outbreak of violence between Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, another armed Shiite group, in Karbala. Soon afterward, Iraqi police intervened and Sadr called a cease-fire, suspending his militia's activity. He went underground for security reasons. Soon thereafter, he left for Iran." Well why should he be any different from the previous exiles?
Saturday, Khalid al-Ansary (Reuters) reported the Ministry of Culture is censoring books in 'free' Iraq and quotes the ministry Taher al-Humoud explaining that all publishers now must "submit lists of titles for approval". An Iraqi correspondent for McClatchy blogs (Inside Iraq):
After the 2003 American-led invasion, Iraqis enjoyed an immediate benefit--freedom of expression.
Today, after all the pain and sacrifices we have endured for six years, this freedom is threatened again.
After the Saddam Hussein regime fell, thousands of book and dozens of newspapers that had been banned, censored or not permitted to be printed were suddenly free to publish.
Meanwhile Heath Druzin (Stars and Stripes) explores the northern section of Iraq, "Iraqi Kurdistan's only legal land crossing along the Turkish border, it is one of the busiest ports of entry in the country, accounting for much of the estimated $6 billion in trade between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish region, according to a 2008 report released by the U.S. Agency for International Development." Druzin explains that the violent exchanges between the PKK and Turkey are handled with free-flow of information between the US and Turkey; however, that's not the case for all:
Local villagers are not so lucky and, while no solid numbers are available, there have been many reports of civilian deaths and injuries. In March, a 2-year-old boy was killed near the Iranian border, and earlier this month, a farmer was badly injured by shrapnel.
More often, the attacks kill livestock, set pastures and farms ablaze and flatten homes. In between shelling, shepherds who graze their sheep along the poorly-marked border must worry about being captured by Iranian troops, a fate that has befallen at least nine Iraqi Kurds in the past month, according to local officials.
The fighting makes an already grinding existence, scratched out from unforgiving terrain through bee-keeping, herding, and subsistence farming, nearly impossible. At least 8,000 Kurds have fled the fighting, creating a refugee crisis in surrounding cities, according to the Refugee Office of Soran, a government organization that works with Kurdish refugees.
Druzin is the reporter the military attempted to censor. Xinhau notes today, "Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay on Tuesday said that Turkey, Iraq and the United States were determined to make their cooperation on fighting against terrorism more influential."
the new york times
alissa j. rubin