Thursday, September 03, 2009

The bank robbery, the assault on Camp Ashraf

July 28th a Baghdad bank, Rafidain Bank, was robbed and eight security guards were killed as millions were taken out of the bank. Yesterday, four of the nine robbers were sentenced to death by hanging. Some of the robbers were body guards for Abdel Mahdi, Iraq's Shi'ite vice president. Today Rod Nordland and Riyahd Mohammed write a major piece for the New York Times entitled "In Bank Killings, Highs and Lows of Iraq Justice" filled with details that haven't made it into the paper before. Possibly, they can be so free with the information because they tie a ribbon around it? They note one of the nine was aquitted and four are missing. But then they get to that you-see-Timmy moment (see Speechless starring Michael Keaton and Geena Davis where he explains a speech needs a you-see-Timmy moment, end of the episode of Lassie where an episode and life lesson is quickly summed up):

But the suspected ringleaders, with well-known ties to the Shiite political elite, have escaped.
Even so, the Zuwiya robbery also demonstrated in some rickety way that Iraq’s young institutions, the judiciary, the news media and its increasingly democratic politics, make it difficult for even the country's most powerful people to snap their fingers and make an embarrassing case go away.
As details emerged, the vice president and his party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the largest Shiite grouping, would suffer a public relations body blow, one that may well affect Mr. Abdul Mahdi's ambitions to become the next prime minister in elections in January.
"I am sure Adel Abdul Mahdi was not involved," said Ahmad Abdulhussein, a journalist threatened for an article he wrote on the case. "But the Iraqi people have to think, do they want a leader who has bodyguards who rob banks and kill?"

Possibly because the verdict and (limited) trial can be spun as "Iraqi justice on the move!" the readers of today's paper can finally learn some of the efforts on the part of Abdul Mahdi to stop the proceedings? Strangely, the paper continues to avoid the attacks on the press. For example, they included Mahdi and his party threatening Iraqi newspapers that printed stories of the robbers connections to the vice president (and in one case, they sued a paper for such reporting).
The reporters tell you that five of the nine robbers were Mahdi's bodyguards. That lawsuit? It involves details like that. Details that the Times was silent on in real time while an Iraqi paper struggling to report was under attack.

Maybe noting the lawsuit and the bullying and blustering wouldn't have allowed a you-see-Timmy moment? But it would have meant that (a) readers could get the truth and (b) an Iraqi paper struggling to utilize freedom-of-the-press got some backing from a heavy weight who could well afford to toss some support into the ring.

Another thing harming the life lesson is the fact that the judge in the case refuses to be identified in any reporting. If things were progressing as brightly and shiningly as everyone keeps saying, that wouldn't happen, now would it?

If you go to Al Jazeera, you'll see the names of the four convicted (Ali Eidan, Basheer Khalid, Ali Ouda and Ahmad Khalaf) as well as this detail:

Most of the money was later recovered in the office of a newspaper owned by Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Iraqi vice president and a senior member of Iraq's largest Shia party, investigators said.
Abdul-Mahdi has denied any involvement saying one of those charged in the robbery worked as part of his security team.
He has said any suggestions of wrongdoing on his part were a politically motivated attempt to sabotage his bid to be re-elected in next January's polls.

July 28th was the bank robbery and it was also when the assault on Camp Ashraf by Nouri's 'troops' began. During Saddam's time, Iranian exiles were allowed safe harbor in Iraq. The exiles were leftists who were opposed to the religious fundamentalist leaders following the toppling of the Shah (the exiles did not favor the Shah). They utilized violence and are known as the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran or the MEK. They remained in Iraq in the 80s, the 90s and this decade. The European Union and England are among the organizations and countries that listed the MEK as a terrorist group -- past tense. The MEK has renounced violence and was removed from the terrorist listing. The US still has the MEK listed as a terrorist organization. There were efforts to remove it from that listing by Congress beginning in 2008; however, the previous administration wasn't interested in that or anything else to do with MEK. It is a hot button issue and it was ignored repeatedly by the Bush administration. This is one of the hot potatoes dropped into the current administration's lap.

Repeating (for friends in the administration who have become whiners), Camp Ashraf is a hot potato that was dropped into the lap of the current administration. The outgoing administration made promises to Nouri and promises to Camp Ashraf. They also declared it protected under the Geneva Conventions.

While it was a hot potato and unexpected, they were aware of how serious it was following the election. (To be clear, it was an obvious problem prior to the election and any observer could have known that. It was only after the election, during the weeks of information being passed on and relayed from outgoing to incoming, that they realized just how explosive it was due to a lot of empty promises made to both sides by the Bush administration. As that became clear, it was tasked to two people who were supposed to lead on the issue. They did not lead. They carved it out and removed it from the State Dept -- long before Hillary was asked to be Secretary of State -- and were supposed to lead on the issue. They did not lead. That is among the reasons -- there are at least four primary ones -- that Vice President Joe Biden was recently put in charge of Iraq.)

As happened with the Bush administration in the fall of 2008, Nouri promised that he had no intention of assaulting Camp Ashraf. (To its credit, the Bush administration strongly suspected Nouri was lying. They were right.)

AP's Kim Gamel files an in-depth report on Camp Ashraf and notes the video of the US military (who protected Camp Ashraf prior to the start of 2009) near the camp as the assault begins, with bloodied camp residents pleading for help to US "soldiers [who] get into a white SUV and roll up their windows as the bloodied men plead for help."

Well they bellowed, and they hollered
And they threw each other down
Down in this valley
This cruel and lovely valley
Oh it should have been an alley
In some low down part of town

As the lights came up
There was no sun
And brandy splattered all over the ground
As this woman with her head held high
Yelled love and why oh why
You're killing me, oh follow me
As I watched safe and clean
From the frosted windows of my limousine
-- "Memorial Day," written by Carly Simon, from her album Spy.

[Spy features the classic "Never Been Gone" and it is among the songs she's redone for Never Been Gone, Carly's latest (and mainly acoustic) album which will be released October 27th. (The album also contains two new compositions.)]

Gamel quotes an anonymous "senior US military official" stating, "We could not become decisively engaged with a situation that really is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to settle in a peaceful manner as they have assured us that they would do. Even in a situation that allowed engagement, we didn't have nearly the amount of forces present to jump in the middle of this fray."

Which is among the reasons the US military needs to leave immediately. A topic will return to in the next entry.

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oh boy it never ends