Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, September 9, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, another death by shower in Iraq, Robert Gates declares 'no change,' Cindy Sheehan continues calling for an end to the wars, at the Arab League meeting in Cairo tensions continue between Iraq and Syria, did the US government sign a written agreement with residents of Camp Ashraf in 2003, and more.
In an interview with Al Jazeera's Abderrahim Foukara (click here for DoD transcript), US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made one of those jaw dropping statements that leaves a nation stunned . . . if they hear it. (Al Jazeera started airing the interview this week.)  Speaking of what he hopes the US will accomplish in Afghanistan, Gates declared, "So in a way it's somewhat comparable to the situation in Iraq, where we have -- where our role has become less and less prominent, where the Iraqis have taken a more and more prominent role in protecting their own security.  And I think that's how we will measure -- be able to measure -- one way we will be able to measure success in Afghanistan is as we see the Afghan security forces taking a more and more pominent and leading role in protecting their own security."  For those who missed it, the new 'secure' Iraq was a myth and even the press had to face that fact as violence began it's slow climb back up starting in February to the point that August saw more deaths than any month in the last 13.  Yesterday NPR's Peter Kenyon (Morning Edition -- link has text and audio, transcript below is from audio) examined one section of Baghdad, a region that had seen tremendous 'success' and 'progress.'
Peter Kenyon:  This is Antar Square, a well-known spot in Adahmiya.  During Saddam Hussein's time, Sunnis lived here and Shiites were actively discouraged from moving there.  After 3002, Adhamiya was, like many Baghdad neighborhoods, wracked by sectarian violence.  In 2007, miles of concrete blast walls encircled the neighborhood.  Sunni "Awakening" forces, armed men recruited and paid by the U.S. military, shouldered their guns and manned checkpoints.  The Iraqi army and police improved their capabilities, and slowly the situation improved.  By the spring of this year, investors held their breath and plunged into the neighborhood. [, , , notes progress in shopping back in May via Sheik Abdel-Qader a-] Dulami said he was seeing close to 1,000 people a day visit the mall showing that Iraqis were starved for signs of normal life. [. . .] A scant three months later, Sheik Dulaimi's 'Flower of Baghdad' is once again the scene of deadly explosions and a terrorized population.  The Iraqi army has resumed raiding house, provoking cries of abuse from families who complain of heavy-handed tactics. That in turn, prompted the army to close the neighborhood down even tighter.  A return visit to the Adhamiya Mall this month found it almost completely deserted.
Robert Gates blathers, "So in a way it's somewhat comparable to the situation in Iraq, where we have -- where our role has become less and less prominent, where the Iraqis have taken a more and more prominent role in protecting their own security."  And does so at a time when Iraq is rocked by violence.  Robert Gates defines that as the measurement for the other illegal war (Afghanistan) and the response across the US should be stunned disbelief.  But they'd have to hear about that statement to be appalled.  They'd have to know about it.
If the news media ever feels like exploring it, they might also want to explain that this 'strategy' is George W. Bush's.  It's the same thing he 'preached' year after year, finally turning it into a soundbye: "As they stand up, we'll stand down."  Didn't the United States hold a presidential election in 2008?  Don't seem to remember George W. Bush's name on the ballot.  So the White House changed but the policies didn't.  Hmm. 
Gates on to repeat the official line (you really don't think the press comes up with them on their own, do you?  No, they interview the military which is assigned the buzz words and the press thinks they discovered something) of: It's still a success because we haven't seen a return of the sectarian war.  That would be the civil war and it would be a bit hard for it to 'return' when one of the results of it was futher segregation of Baghdad neighborhoods.  But noting that requires critical thinking and apparently stenography saps you of that ability.
Interestingly, the top US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, doesn't appear to be on the exact same page as Gates.  While Gates does cart wheels over the lack of a sectarian war, Odierno told Joint Forces Quarterly (PDF format warning, click here).  , "Iraqis are still dealing with lingering ethnosectarian histories, Arab-Kurd tensions, and violent extremist groups such as al Qaeda and other external actors who seek to exploit any fissures. The Iraqis are still deterrmining the nature of their federal state and the balance of powers between the central and provincial govenrments. [. . .] I see Arab-Kurd tensions as the greatest single driver of instability in Iraq -- and it does complicate the security situation in the north to an extent. While our combined operations have degraded al Qaeda, there is still a presence in the north, and those cells work to exploit tensions between the ISF and the Kurdish peshmerga and police forces."  That's not Sunni and Shia.  And that's an area Robert Gates didn't cover.  Back to the interview:
Abderrahim Foukara: And after you leave, my understanding is that President Obama pledged that the United States will not build any permanent military bases in Iraq.  Is that pledge -- does that pledge still stand?
Robert Gates: Absolutely.
 Abderrahim Foukara: Now how do you define permanent?  Because bases in Germany, they've been there for about 60 years now, in Korea for a similar period of time. How do you define permanent?  How do you define temporary?
Robert Gates: Temporary is based on the fact that anothe rpart of this agreement is that all US forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.  That is the agreement that we have with the Iraqi government.  All US forces.  No bases.  No forces.  That's the --
Abderrahim Foukara: Unless the Iraqis ask you to stay longer.
Robert Gates: Unless there is some new agreement or some new negotiation, which would clearly be on Iraqi terms. But we will not have any permanent bases in Iraq.  We have no interest in permanet bases in Iraq.  And we are now planning on withdrawing all American military forces by the end of 2011.
Yes, the war could be extended.  It's a shame US news consumers need Al Jazeera to know that.  Continue.  It's not over.  A few weeks ago, Jari (The Stupidest Man on Earth)  highlighted the International Committee of the Red Cross' statment:
Despite the common perception that the armed conflict in Iraq is largely over, widespread violence and a lack of respect for human life continue to affect the Iraqi people.  Civilians are the primary victims.
Let's go back to  Gates for a moment,  At the end of last month, August Cole (Wall St. Journal) reported on Gates doing an 'in-store' appearance at Lockheed Martin Corp's "production line in Fort Worth, Texas" where he "made an usually strong endorsement Monday for an approximately $300 billion program to buy thousands of new fighters being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp."  War is Big Money.  Otherwise a Secretary of Defense wouldn't tour a factory.  Monday Thom Shanker (New York Times) reported that the Congressional Research Service's "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations" found the US the biggest supplier of weapons in the world and, in contrast to the domestic and global recession, the US has actually increased its selling of death toys and destruction instruments in 2008 ($37.8 billion in revenues versuse 2007's $25.4 billion). The next closet competitor is Italy which raked in approximately one-tenth of the monies the US did ($3.7 billion). It's Big Business and it's booming.  War is big business. Ask KBR and Halliburton.  Even deaths don't hurt their profit motive.  Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that State Dept contractor (Triple Canopy) Adam Hermanson is dead at the age of 25 from "showering in Baghdad".  Janine Hermanson states her husband died September 1st and that she was told it was from electrocution.  Jermey Scahill (writing at The Nation) reports:
On Tuesday morning, the military medical examiner who performed Hermanson's autopsy met with Hermanson's wife, Janine. "He said that everything was still pending and that he can't make a final [statement] because the toxicology and all that stuff has not come back yet. But he said that [the cause of death] was a low-voltage electrocution," she told The Nation. "When I got the call I was told that he was found in a shower, and now I am getting told that there was even still electrical current on the shower floor when they found him."
When Patricia got the news, she thought there must have been a mistake. "Adam didn't want me to worry and had told me he was in Kuwait. I just found out he was in Iraq the day he died. He said, 'Mom, I'm gonna go to Kuwait, it's gonna be a piece of cake--they even have a water park there.' All along he was telling me a lie because he didn't want me to worry."
Hermanson's family suspects that Adam may have died as a result of faulty electrical wiring. And they have good reason to think that--at least sixteen US soldiers and two contractors have died from electrocution. The Pentagon's largest contractor in Iraq, KBR (a former Halliburton subsidiary), has for months been at the center of a Congressional investigation into the electrocution deaths because the company has the massive LOGCAP contract and is responsible for almost all of the electrical wiring in US-run facilities in Iraq. The eighteen soldiers and contractors died as a result of KBR's "shoddy work," according to Senator Frank Lautenberg.
On electrocution deaths, US Senator Bob Casey Jr.'s office released the following July 26th:
After the Department of Defense Inspector General released its report on the electrocution death of Staff Sergeant Ryan Maseth and 17 other electrocution deaths in Iraq, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released the following statement:           
"I am heartened that, after an exhaustive investigation, the Department of Defense Inspector General has finally published its findings and recommendations.  The responsibility for the death of Ryan Maseth can be attributed to many quarters.  However, the Inspector General has concluded that the water pump which shorted and caused his electrocution was first installed by a KBR subcontractor less than two years prior to Ryan's death.  That water pump, located on the roof of Ryan's building, was not grounded during installation.  This deficiency was not discovered during a subsequent inspection administered by KBR.           
"We cannot stop with the publication of this report alone.  Those who failed to carry out their contractual obligations in a way that contributed to the death of a U.S. soldier should be held fully accountable for their negligence.  I also eagerly await the findings of the Army CID report."
In a carefully worded press release at the start of last month, the Defense Department stated that their own investigation "concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish criminal culpability of any person or entity in the death of Staff Sgt. Maseth."  Despite Halliburton pointing to this as proof of innocence, it is no such thing.  Ryan Maseth did die by electrocution and KBR did do the wiring.  But DoD decided there wasn't enough evidence to prove "criminal culpability."  No real surprise when you consider how much business Halliburton does with the Pentagon.  The outrageous thing is that the US Congress didn't launch their own investigation immediately after the DoD's press release.
Staying with deaths and injuries . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing targeting a police checkpoint which wounded a police officer and two people, a second Baghdad roadside bombing which injured two people, a Baghdad sticky bombing which left two people injured, a Kirkuk suicide car bombing targeting a Sahwa leader in which 3 people died and fifteen were wounded and a Mosul sticky bombing on the car of Col Jassim Mahmoud Jassim that claimed his life and left two people injured. Reuters drops back to Tuesday to note a Baghdad car bombing which injured three people, a Mosul roadside bombing which injured three Iraqi soldiers and a Baghdad motorcycle bombing which claimed 1 life and left seven people injured.  Jormana Karadsheh (CNN) reports a Kirkuk home bombing which claimed the life of a Sahwa leader ("Awakening" and "Sons Of Iraq") as well as "seven other family members, including women and children.  A wounded two-year-old child was the only survivor."  Press TV notes speculation -- Reuters and CNN say Sahwa, AFP states that the people in the home were making the bomb and had recently arrived from Diyala Province.
Reuters notes 1 man shot dead in Mosul, the US and Iraqi military killed 2 males in a Baghdad "pre-dawn raid" while 2 people were also killed by the US and Iraqi military in another Baghdad 'operation'.
Staying with violence, Black Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday. August 19th. When bombings rocked Baghdad with two of the buildings being targeted being the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter ministry faced the most damage and suffered the largest death toll. Nouri al-Maliki had ordered the Bremer/blast walls removed and that's been a source of criticism since the bombings. (Immediately following Black Wednesday, the removal of walls was stopped. It was not immediately announced publicly, but it happened immediately. Since then, walls have been put back up.) The death toll for the day's violence in Baghdad was at least 101 with approximately 600 injured.

Immediately Nouri's spokespeople ran out to say that no one should "play the blame game." A rather strange statement when you consider that Nouri and his troupe immediately began blaming Syria. In the process, Nouri has created an ugly scene, an ugly international scene. Baghdad and Damascus have each removed their ambassadors. Nouri demands that Syria turn over two Iraqis. Syria demands proof before doing any extraditions.

"Syria and Iraq's diplomatic storm" (Guardian), Ranj Alaadin observes:

The spat has now led to a potentially dangerous frenzy of military activity along the Syrian border, where Maliki has sent reinforcements to prevent militants from infiltrating.                          
The speed with which an exchange of goodwill and cooperation between Syria and Iraq turned into a diplomatic storm suggests that Maliki's reaction is electoral posturing more than anything else. His political credentials have taken a battering because of the attacks, given that his main, if not only, credential is security. It had been his decision to get rid of security barriers and checkpoints that could have reduced the magnitude of the attacks, if not prevent them altogether.
Right now, Maliki is left with only nationalism and the withdrawal of US troops to campaign on as he heads closer towards the national elections in January; he does not have enough time to improve things such as public services and employment.                  
Syria was a convenient scapegoat that Maliki could use to deflect attention away from his own shortcomings. After all, there was no similar posturing during the early years of Maliki's tenure when cross-border jihadist attacks were at their height.

Russia's RIA Novosti reported that the conflict would be addressed today in the Arab League meeting in Cairo. Xinhua quotes Walid al-Moallem, Syria's Foreign Minister, stating, "We are ready to solve the crisis with Iraq" which he describes as "something regrettable that does not serve the interests of both Syria and Iraq." Lebanon's Daily Star explains that Amr Moussa, the Arab League Secretary General, and Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's Foreign Minister, met with al-Moallem and Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari for a discussion of the issue. Maamoun Youssef (AP) adds that the Syrian and Iraqi foreign ministers had angry words in which they exchanged accusations and that today's effort was "a failed attempt to resolve a deepening split" The allegations included that Iraq's blame Syria in order to distract from their own failures and that Syria is a supporter of terrorism in Iraq.  Meanwhile Reuters reports, "An investigative council has charged 29 Iraqi security officials with negligence relating to two truck bombs outside government ministries in Baghdad last month that killed 95 people, Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said."  Sami Moubayed (Asia Times) observes:

This week, Iraq seemed far from giving anything close to an apology. Maliki's al-Da'wa Party staged demonstrations chanting anti-Syrian slogans, raising tension to unprecedented levels between Damascus and Baghdad. The demonstrations, which took place in al-Hilla, south of Baghdad, brought 200 people to the streets, including officials in the Maliki regime. Many of the al-Da'wa members now spreading anti-Syrian rhetoric were one-time allies of Syria, who for years were protected by Syria against the dragnet of Saddam.
Reportedly, more demonstrations are scheduled for September 24, ahead of a United Nations Security Council meeting at which Iraq's request for an international tribunal will be discussed. Certain Iraqi officials, however, are trying to downplay the crisis with Syria.
Nouri's other international problems would include the Iranian dissidents who have lived for years in Iraq.  (In fact, they lived there while Nouri was trembling in fear and living outside the country -- that yellow streak down Nouri's back isn't a racing stripe.)  July 28th, Nouri launched an assault on Camp Ashraf, where the dissidents live.  (Classified as a terrorist organization by the US, the MEK is no longer considered that by the European Union or by England.  The US protected Camp Ashraf following the US invasion of Iraq.  They also declared the residents protected persons under Geneva.  The Status Of Forces Agreement masquerading as a treaty that Bush rammed through and Barack -- despite previous objections -- accepted turned Camp Ashraf over to Nouri following a verbal assurance/promise from him that he would not harm the residents.)  Earlier this month, Italian Radio's Aldo Forbice interviewed Ahmad Foruqi who is among the residents in Camp Ashraf and Foruqi stated, "We have been surrounded by the Iraqi forces and they do not allow any reporters or human rights organizations to enter the camp."
More troubling for the US is Ahmad Forqui's assertion that Camp Ashraf residents had a written agreement with the US guaranteeing their protection -- an agreement the US State Dept has never acknowledged, nor has the White House.  "Every one of us in the camp," states Ahmad Foruqi, "had signed an agreement with the American forces in 2003.  According to this agreement, they were responsible for our safety and security.  However, they did not do anything when we were attacked."
Mark Tran (Guardian) reports on supporters in London "consuming only water and tea for the past 44 days" and stating they will continue their hunger strike (Zohreh Moalemi: "I will carry on until the end."), "The protesters are demanding both US forces protection and UN monitoring for the camp, and the release of 36 refugees still being held by Iraqi forces.  One hunger striker in London has suffered a heart attack and others are suffering from internal bleeding and loss of vision."  Rebecca Lowe (Barnet Times) adds, "Nineteen-year-old Soudabeh Heidari, from Engel Park, Mill Hill, is on the verge of a coma and can no longer sit or walk.  Yaqub Doughforosh Banan, 54, from Hendon, is so weak he cannot open his eyes, and Mahmoud Fassihpor, 57, from Finchley, has lost nearly 18 kilos in weight.  All 12 are shwogin signs of muscle wasting and suffering severe abdominal pains.  Farzaneh Dadkhah, 41, from Wales, had a heart attack last Wednesday and was admitted to hospital. After recovering, she demanded to rejoin the strikers and continue the protest." Laila Jazayeri (UK's Religious Intelligence News) reports, "The International Human Rights Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales on Wednesday accused the US of having some responsibility for the massacre of Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf six weeks ago by Iraqi forces and it urged the Obama administration to protect people in the camp."  If the statements regarding a written agreement between the US government and Camp Ashraf residents are true, expect even more of an international outcry. 
Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan never stops decrying war and advocating for peace.  David R. Henderson ( reports on a speech Cindy gave in northern California:
Which brings me to my big surprise of the evening: Sheehan's wit. I've read a fair amount about Cindy Sheehan over the years, but one thing that I hadn't known until I saw her speak was what a subtle, smart sense of humor she has. I found myself breaking into loud laughs when she nailed the issues with her great one-liners. Take her discussion of how Nancy Pelosi lines up votes, telling various Democratic congressmen that they can vote against war spending because they need to shore up their antiwar support, while telling others that they need to vote for war spending. Sheehan commented, "That's when the vote is going to be close. She doesn't do that when the vote is going to be 400 to only a handful for the 'Resolution to support Israel in everything they ever want to do.'" I think that besides her courage and persistence, her wit is part of her ability to reach audiences.
Meanwhile Cindy's quoted by Sean Rose (Courier-Journal) stating, "If we're anti-war, if we hated those polices under the Bush administration, we have to hate those policies under the Obama adminsitration.  We can't say we're going to stop being activists because we have a new administration."  Today Cindy Sheehan appeared on WFPL's State of Affairs and discussed the wars and her own life including her decision to step away in 2007 as a result of Democrats -- then controlling both houses of Congress -- refusing to make good on their promise to end the Iraq War -- the promise that gave them control of both houses in the 2006 mid-term elections. Some of her activies this week include:
            9/10 Thu 11:00 AM-12:00 PM Bellarmine Univ. Speaking event & book signing         
            (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC)          
            12:00 - 1:00 PM Brown Bag lunch at Bellarmine by invitation only   
            1:00 - 2:50 PM OPEN      
            2:50 - 4:05 PM Speak at Sharon Wallace's Sociology class, JCC, downtown      
            6:30 PM Potluck Party at Ray's Monkey House, Bardstown Rd.  
            (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC)   
            9/11 Fri 10:00-11:00 AM 9/11 event: Fire Fighters' Memorial, Jefferson Square Park        
            (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC) 
            Interview with Jim Pence of
            11:00 - 4:00 PM OPEN  
            4:00-9:00 PM Farewell Fund-raiser party at Harold & Carol Trainers' home         
            (OPEN TO THE PUBLIC) 
            9/12 Sat - Cindy departs for Lexington day trip
            9/13 Sun - Cindy departs Louisville 
We'll try to note Cindy's radio interview in tomorrow's snapshot (if not, we'll note it Friday -- tomorrow's snapshot should include a Congressional hearing).  We'll close with this from Debra Sweet of World Can't Wait:
Within the next several weeks, President Obama will announce that up to 20,000 more troops will deploy to Afghanistan - in addition to replacing up to 14,000 support troops with "trigger-pullers." This will only mean increasing the death and destruction brought to the Afghan people. 

And U.S. involvement in Iraq is not only not over, but is becoming a permanent occupation.

We are beginning to see more people openly object to the US occupation of Afghanistan. And
your help and money are needed! 

From October 3-17 the anti-war movement will be gathering, marching, and doing direct action against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. World Can't Wait will be in front of the White House with the
National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance on Monday, October 5 with the "Museum of Torture" displaying for the nation the details of what the torture memos directed CIA operatives to do to detainees.  

Tuesday, October 6, the day George Bush began the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, we're calling on high school students, and their supporters to protest military recruiting, inside the schools and after school. The We Are Not Your Soldiers Tour is gearing up now, as school starts, to bring Iraq & Afghanistan vets into classrooms with the truth about what joining the military means now.  

World Can't Wait projects
War Criminals Watch and Fire John Yoo are intensifying efforts to make the demand for prosecution of war criminals heard from college students where the criminals are teaching; in front of court houses where they preside, and across society. We agree with the Center for Constitutional Rights attorneys that Eric Holder's appointment of a prosecutor to look into whether there should be any investigations of low level torturers, only, is a "sham and a diversion."