Monday, August 9, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, rumors swirl that Nouri in bed with the Righteous League, details of assassination attempt on Nouri emerge, a plea for Camp Ashraf and more.
Bombings rock Iraq today with mass fatalities in Baghdad and just outside Mosul. Ernesto Londono and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) report that Khazna, outside Mosul, houses a population of approximately 500, at least 35 of which died today, with many being Shabaks. The reporters label them Shi'ites which is what most Shabak's self-identify as; however, the Shabaks have affinities with Kurds as a result of campaigns against them during Saddam Hussein's reign including the Al-Anfal Campaign. The United Nations funded Aswat al-Iraq reported in November last year on the Shabak protest in Ninewa ("hundreds of Shabak people") "calling to incorporate them into the Kurdistan region on the basis that they are Kurds, not Arabs." Shabaks live in over 30 villages in northern Iraq and practice a religion which blends Islam, Christianity and other faiths. Londono and Mizher note comments from Sunni officials (blaming the Kurds for the bombings) which may strike some as rather insulting since the Sunnis have been accused of committing genocide against the Shabaks -- Sunni groups in the region have claimed credit for multiple beheadings of Shabaks and threats aimed at them (leading some Shabaks to become external refugees). Sam Dagher (New York Times) labels this bombing "the most devastating attack" today: "a pair of large flatbed trucks packed with bombs exploded simultaneously shortly after dawn". Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) states of the bombs, "They left huge craters and levelled 35 homes. More than 130 people were injured, out of a village population of 3,000." Mujahid Mohammed (AFP) quotes nurse and eye witness Falah Ridha stating, "Eleven people in my family were killed when their house collapsed. All of them woke up after the first bomb, but the second bomb was very close to my house, it was like an earthquake. No one else escaped, just me." Jamal al-Badrani, Mohammed Abbas, Muhanad Mohammed, Waleed Ibrahim, Yara Bayoumy and Jon Boyle (Reuters) quote survivor Umm Qasim asking, "What have we done for terrorists to kill innocents in their sleep?" The reporters note she was "covered in blood . . . holding her wounded son. The bodies of four relatives, including her husband and sister, lay nearby." England's ITN adds, "Police say the death toll could rise further because people are buried under the rubble of their own homes." BBC News has a photo essay of the aftermath. UK's Channel 4 News (link has text and video) notes today's violence is "raising fears of a return to sectarian violence."
Jonathan Rugman: The plains beneath the Kurdish mountains are becoming Iraq's most dangerous region. Two truck bombs exploding east of the city of Mosul today, destroying scores of homes. 30 dead and over 150 wounded. This crater destroying an entire Shi'ite village. All this after a similar attack on local Shi'ites killed 37 only last Friday. The pattern emerging here is one of minorities being deliberately targeted in the north of Iraq. A foretaste perhaps of a long feared Kurdish-Arab civil war.
Mark Kattuner (Minority Rights Group International): Well I think through most of Iraq, including from Baghdad, the Americans have withdrawn from patrolling the cities. But in Mosul they're still patrolling in cooperation with the Iraqi army because they realize just how dangerous the situation is. The city is still contested. In particular, the land all around it in the Nineveh Plain is contested between Kurds and Arabs. And therefore everything that's happened in the last month hasn't happened just because the Americans have left. It's happened while they are still there. And it shows that they are incapable of protecting the minority communities on the ground.
AGI states the population is "mainly . . . Shia Muslims" with Shabaks a secondary population and they state the target most likely was a mosque. The village was not only area rocked by bombings. Ann Barker (Australian Network News) notes, "In Baghdad two car bombs targeting labourers killed 16 people and wounded 81 in another Shi'ite area in the city's southwest." Sam Dagher (New York Times) notes two of the Baghdad bombings "struck lines of workers who had gathered to look for jobs as day laborers, one in the Amil district, the other in Shurta al-Rabiaa, both of which are mainly Shiite areas." with the first blast claiming 7 lives and leaving forty-six injured and the second blast claiming 9 lives and leaving thrity-five injured. Eye withness Jabir Abid tells Laith Hammoudi and Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers), "A big ball of fire went up in the air, and there was a very big bang. Suddenly, I couldn't see anything because a black cloud of smoke covered everything." Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) notes that in addition to those two Baghdad car bombings, Baghdad was rocked by seven roadside bombings resulting 2 deaths and nineteen people injured, while a Baghdad sticky bombing on a mini bus resulted in 1 death (the driver) and three injuries, a third Baghdad car bombing claimed 2 lives and wounded eighteen and a Tikrit bombing claimed the lives of 2 "little brothers" while 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul. Reuters adds a Mosul home invasion resulted in the death of 1 woman and a man being wounded.
Today's violence follows weekend reports of 8 deaths and seventeen injured in violence and, as noted already, Friday's Mosul bombing which claimed at least 38 lives and left two-hundred and seventy-six people injured while other reported violence on Friday resulted in 15 deaths and 58. Adding all of the deaths reported on Friday and since together results in 124 dead and 624 injured. Interestingly, today's fatalities is approximately the same number as Friday's and the wounded toll on both days is also similar. BBC News reports, "The BBC's Natalia Antelava in Baghdad says the Iraqi government is keen to show its troops are fully in control and capable of doing their job without the help of US forces." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) refers to Nouri speaking to "a gathering of Iraqi security commanders" today and repeating his b.s. about the "coming election" (scheduled for January); however, I've got two reporters telling me on the phones that Nouri was speaking live on Iraqi state television, hence to the Iraqi people and not just to security commander. Arraf does a good job of describing the Shabak's (better than I did above) and she also notes that the Sunni Arab governor is blaming the pesh merga for the attacks if only in a 'they failed' kind of way which, naturally, leads him to just happen to suggest/insist that the Iraqi military should control the area. This is a disputed region and, again, the Shabaks have publicly demonstrated to be part of the Kurdistan Region. Apparently the Shabaks aren't people, they are a political football (or cannon fodder) to be used to win territory. While some attempt to use the violence to secure land, Ali Sheikholeslami (Bloomberg News) notes that there has been "no immediate statement of responsibility for the blasts". Minority Rights Group International issues a statement on the violence which quotes Mark Lattimer (noted earlier in the snapshot) stating, "The bombings of minority communities near Mosul and Kirkuk are more than just an expression of religious hatred. They are a deliberate attempt to grab control over contested territory in northern Iraq by puhsing out the minorities who live there." CNN reports that Iraq's Interior Ministry, via their spokesperson, is going with the blanket culprit: al Qaeda in Iraq.
Yesterday an Australian contractor (Darren Hoare) and a British contractor (Paul McGuigan) were shot dead in the Green Zone and, in the incident, an unidentified Iraq was injured with British contractor Danny Fitzsimons arrested in the shootings. The two deaths and the wounded Iraqi are included in the earlier count of deaths and injuries in the last four days, FYI. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) speaks with a spokesperson for Iraq's Internation Ministry, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who "said Fitzsimons got into a dispute with colleagues as they were drinking. 'They got into an argument and he started shooting his colleagues,' Khalaf said." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune features a news round up which quotes an Iraqi military spoksesperson, Qassim al-Moussawi, insisting the incident "started as a squabble. The subject is facing a premeditated murder charge." Oliver August (Times of London) reports that British contractor "fled the scene with a pistol, was held after a shootout and handed to Iraqi police." (He was held by US troops who turned him over to the Iraqi police.) August speaks with an unnamed witnesses who sketches out the contractors all drinking and getting into a skirmish which turned increasing violent. At some point, August says 4:00 a.m., the not so surprising feature to a drunken, aggressive squabble among armed people took place: Fitzsimons pulled out a gun and waived it around. Iraqis have mentioned execution. Jay Price (Raleigh News & Observer) adds, "According to AP, the gunman could be the first Westerner tried for murder under Iraqi law since an agreement that took effect Jan. 1 between the U.S. and Iraq ending the immunity Western contractors had enjoyed since not long after the war began in 2003." August files a report where he focuses just on the drinking and the skirmish and contains more details from eye witnesses with Fitzsimons allegedly waiving the pistol and others attempting to disarm him when, apparently, the shooting began. August adds, "Consular officials from the British Embassy have visited Mr Fitzsimmons, as well as a second British national, believed to be another ArmorGroup employee, who was being held there but not considered a suspect and has now been released." Deborah Haynes (Times of London) offers a commentary which includes, "It is also a huge embarrassment for Britain at a time when Gordon Brown is still waiting for the Iraqi parliament to ratify a new security agreement between the two countries -- somethign that should have happened by the end of May but is unlikely to take place until autumn at the earliest. The arrest comes at a time when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is trying to secure the release of three remaining British hostages in Iraq, two of whom are thought to be dead." We'll drop back to the August 6th snapshot for background on the British hostages:
Jason Swindlehurst, Jason Creswell, Alec Maclachlan, Alan McMenemy and Peter Moore, all British citizens, were kidnapped in Baghdad May 29, 2007. Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell were dead when their bodies were turned over to the British authorities after the two leaders of the group bragging about having done the kidnappings were released from US custody. (The same group, and why the brothers had been imprisoned originally by the US, bragged about their actions in assaulting a US base and killing 5 American soldiers.) The British government considers Alec and Alan to be dead (the families remain hopeful) and it is thought (by the British government) that Peter Moore is alive. The group taking credit for the kidnappings and for the deaths of 5 US soldiers is alternately called the Righteous League or the League of Righteous by the press. The press? They got press this week, see Monday's snapshot, because Nouri met with them to bring them back into the government. As noted in the Tuesday snapshot, the press spin that the group has given up violence is false. Their spokesperson says they will not attack Iraqis but that they will continue to go after US service members.
Now, for the 5 US soldiers killed by the Righteous League (they've claimed credit for the assualt) we'll drop back to 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. Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Robert H. Reid (AP) states that Jonathan B. Chism's father Danny Chism is outraged over the release and has declared, "They freed them? The American military did? Somebody needs to answer for it."
So we should all be on the same page: The League of Righteous has claimed credit for the deaths of 5 US soldiers and credit for kidnapping 5 British citizens, at least 2 of whom are known to be dead. In addition, British outlets noted last month that the Iraqi government appeared to be involved in the kidnappings (see the July 31st snapshot if you're late on this story). Gareth Porter (Asia Times) is reporting that recent developments demonstrate how Nouri al-Maliki, puppet of the occupation and US-installed thug, has long been working with the League of Righteous:
The history of the new agreement confirms what was evident from existing information: the League of the Righteous was actually the underground wing of the Mahdi Army all along, and the Sadrist insurgents were secretly working closely with the Maliki regime against the Americans and the British - even as it was at war with armed elements within the regime.
The contradictory nature of the relationship between Maliki and the Sadrists reflects the tensions between pro-Sadrist elements within the regime - including Maliki's Da'wa Party - and the anti-Sadrist elements led by the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The relationship between Maliki and the US was also marked by contradictions. Even though he was ostensibly cooperating with the US against the Sadrists in 2007 and 2008, the Maliki regime was also cooperating secretly with the Sadrist forces against the Americans. And Maliki - with the encouragement of Iran -- was working on a strategy for achieving the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq through diplomatic means, which he did not reveal to the Americans until summer 2008.
What Gareth Porter is reporting is something news outlets in England and the US should be digging into because, if true, it's a huge slap in the face to both countries. Meanwhile in non-surprising (but non-reported) news, Rahmat al-Salaam (Ashraq Alawsat) reports thug Nouri was targeted by "a member of his own security protection team
Meanwhile NPR's Deborah Amos recently returned to Iraq and shares her observations which include this on Baghdad: "The blast walls -- tall, gray barriers that surround most neighborhoods -- make the city unrecognizable. I had read about these ugly concrete ravines, but it is still shocking to see the magnitude of the divisions in Baghdad. How long will it take to dismantle walls that saved lives but divided the population? Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to remove Baghdad's concrete maze over the next 40 days, which means the city would be transformed by the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Can he move that much concrete in 40 days? Is this a reckless campaign pledge when civilians are still a target for random bombs?" Amos also notes the Sunni-Shi'ite divide has not vanished and fears remain of more 'ethnice violence' (genocide). FYI, Sam Dagher (New York Times) reported that "most" of the walls will be removed in 40 days -- not all.
July 28th there was a bank heist resulting in the death of at least 8 guards and, it turned out, the robbers were guards for Iraq's Shi'ite vice president. What's taken place since have been efforts to appease thug v.p. Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The Iraqi police has had to negotiate the story with Adel and that includes frequently lying in print that it was the 'tremendous' help of Adel which allowed the bank robbers to be caught. (An improvement over Adel's original demand which was the press lie that only one of his guards were involved in the robbery.) Iraqi journalist Ahmad Abdul Hussein published an article entitled "8000 blankets" in Al Sabah which dealt with allegations about the robbery and deal with bribery during the January provincial elections and that the lawsuit could have been to raise cash to influence the elections scheduled for January 2010 -- a lawsuit is now filed against the paper. Alsumaria reports a demonstration is scheduled this Friday in Baghdad "in defense of press freedom which was most damaged by the aftereffects of Rafidain's Bank heist in Al Karrada. The protest is due on Friday at 10:30 in the morning in Al Mutannabi Street carried out by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in cooperation with other parties to respond to Jalal Eddin Saghir, a leader in Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council who called in his Friday sermon to sue Al Sabah Newspaper on account of the "8000 blankets" article." Ammar Karim (AFP) reports that Al Sabah editorialized on the matter yesterday with a call for people such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini to step in and defuse the remarks of Jalal Eddin Saghir, a member of the v.p.'s political party: "The language that Saghir used was full of insults and incitements against Al-Sabah newspaper, its editors and one of its reporters. This is not how Islamic discourse should be."
David Morgan and Jackie Frank (Reuters) note Camp Ashraf: "Human rights lawyers from the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf advocacy group accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ignoring Baghdad's assurances to Washington that camp residents would be treated humanely." They're asking that the US take control of Camp Ashraf to protect the residents who have been under assault from Nouri's security forces.
Meanwhile three Kurdistan provinces held elections last month. The final, official count for the Kurdistan regional elections have been released. From the KRG:
Electoral Commission announces final results of Kurdistan Region elections
Erbil, Kurdistan -- Iraq (KRG.org) -- The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC) released the final results of the Kurdistan Region presidential and parliamentary elections yesterday - 7 August 2009. A total of 1,819,652 individuals, about 80 per cent of eligible voters, participated in the election. The results are as follows. Presidential election:
Masoud Barzani, 1266397 votes – 69.6% (winner)
Kamal Mirawdly, 460323 votes – 25.3%
Hallo Ibrahim Ahmed, 63377 votes – 3.5%
Ahmed Muhammad Nabi, 18890 votes – 1%
Husain Garmiyan 10665, votes – 0.6% Parliamentary election:
Kurdistan List, 1076370 votes, 59 parliamentary seats
Change List, 445024 votes, 25 parliamentary seats
Reform and Services List, 240842 votes, 13 parliamentary seats
Islamic Movement, 27147 votes, 2 parliamentary seats
Freedom and Social Justice, 15028 votes, 1 parliamentary seat
Parliamentary Seats reserved for minority groups:
Turkoman Democratic Movement, 18464 votes, 3 parliamentary seats
Turkoman Reform List, 7077 votes, 1 parliamentary seat
Turkoman Erbil List, 3906 votes, 1 parliamentary seat
Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council, 10595 votes, 3 parliamentary seats
Al-Rafidain List, 5690 votes, 2 parliamentary seats
Aram Shahin Dawood Bakoyian, 4198 votes, 1 parliamentary seat
Saturday Nancy Dickeman wrote the New York Times about their article on Col Timothy Reese's memo recommending all US forces leave Iraq by the end of 2010 ("Declare Victory and Depart Iraq, U.S. Adviser Says," by Michael Gordon) and she observes, "We are not merely guests overstaying a welcome, but are invaders and occupiers. It is time to act upon the inescapable truth that Iraq -- its people, desert, rivers, cities, farms and oil beneath the sand -- are not ours to cliam or control. It takes our going home to give Iraq back to the Iraqis." The New Jersey Star-Ledger editorializes "Iraq War: Declare victory and leave:"
Reese offers a realistic perspective of where we find ourselves now: "Our operations are in support of an Iraqi government that no longer relishes our help while at the same time our operations generate the extremist opposition to us as various groups jockey for power in post-occupation Iraq.
The U.S. military, he says, is now the subject of attacks meant not to drive us out of Iraq but as "messages sent by various groups as part of the political struggle for power in Iraq." In Reese's sober assessment, there's no point in staying in Iraq just to get stuck in the middle of yet another struggle for power. The removal of combat troops could begin immediately and be completed by this time next summer, he suggests. That move might actually improve our standing with the Iraqi government and, perhaps more important, save us "blood and treasure," he writes. Back in 2003, we seemed to have an infinite amount of both, but that has also changed in the intervening six years.
Reese's report has no status as policy and the senior American commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, has rejected it. The counter-argument centers largely on our role in preventing a resumption of the various feuds among the Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds that could erupt in our absence.
But those feuds might still erupt in future years. And in any case, preventing those feuds was not among the goals of the original invasion. Those goals, or at least those stated for public consumption, were removing Saddam Hussein and creating an opportunity for free elections. Done. And done.
As for babysitting the Iraqis for the foreseeable future, that was not a goal. The sooner they are left to their own devices, the better for America.
That's not a left view for withdrawal, but it's an argument for withdrawal and it's one that Ava and I noted two Sundays ago and pointed out that this is the time when withdrawal for Iraq is truly not a left issue. It has a broad base of support that goes beyond the left and beyond people from the right and center who are embarrassed that they supported the illegal war. If there was a functioning peace movement in this country that would be built upon because this a tremendous moment but it's not even being noted, it's not even being addressed. Col Timothy Reese's memo is reaching beyond the left -- actually the left outlets have largely ignored it. Which is a point that Tim McGirk (Time magazine) also notices:
That question isn't being asked only by liberal anti-war opinion-makers. It has also been raised by a growing number of senior officials in Washington and U.S. commanders in Iraq. An internal memo drafted by Col. Timothy Reese, an adviser to the Iraqi senior military command, and leaked to the New York Times last month, doesn't mince words. He writes that it is time "for the U.S. to declare victory and bring our combat forces home."
The gist of the colonel's argument is that there is nothing significant that a continued U.S. military presence can do to improve either the delivery of "essential services" to Iraqis, or the ability and inclination of Maliki's sloppy and quarrelsome Shi'ite-dominated government to reconcile with the Sunnis and Kurds.
In fact, there are a growing number of warning signs that the Iraqi government is no longer under the sway of their American forces that brought it into being. Reese notes a "sudden coolness" being displayed by Iraqi commanders towards their American counterparts after June 30, the date on which the Status of Forces Agreement concluded between Baghdad and Washington last December required that U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq's towns and cities. Following that date, suspects detained by U.S. soldiers were freed by Iraqis. And the Iraqi government openly disdained the recent offer by Vice-President Joe Biden, during a visit to Baghdad, to help mediate in its conflicts with Kurds and Sunnis. Top military adviser Reese likened the relationship between Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to "a father teaching his kid to ride a bike without training wheels, " explaining: "Our hand on the back of the (Iraqis') seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground."
One of the few genuine voices against the Iraq War (as opposed to the faux 'anti-warriors') is Chris Hedges and (link goes to Dandelion Salad) he notes that nothing has changed under Barack, the US "killas as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as it did under George W. Bush." He notes a great deal more than that and we'll include him in an entry tomorrow morning; however, the point of noting that is the Barack supporters were fooled the same way Bush supporters were. I belive they call that "common ground." A peace movement dedicated to ending the unpopular and illegal war could really accomplish something now. If it existed.
Finally Chris Johnson and Lou Chibbarro Jr. (Washington Blade) report on a fundraiser for Iraq's LGBT community which became the staging area for a number of allegations:
A fundraising event to benefit an LGBT community center in Lebanon last week took a surprise turn when stunned audience members were shown graphic photographs of beheaded corpses and images purportedly depicting U.S. soldiers preparing to execute gay Iraqis.
Two gay Iraqi refugees, who declined to use their real names, delivered a presentation at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters July 24 in which they detailed alleged abuses of fellow gay Iraqis while calling on their audience to donate funds to Helem, a Lebanon-based center that works to address the plight of LGBT people in the Middle East.
One of the Iraqis, who goes by the name "Hussam," showed the audience of about 80 people gruesome images, including shots allegedly of a beheaded man who was gay and another of the victim's twin brother grieving over the severed head.
While asserting that anti-gay violence in Iraq is often committed by Iraqis, Hussam also said U.S. service members were involved in anti-gay hostility. For example, he said service members displayed signs in front of their barracks with the words "F**k Off F**s."
But the reaction from the audience turned from anger to shock when Hussam said U.S. service members had detained Iraqi civilians perceived to be gay and executed them.