Friday, September 18, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Biden's visit gets some press attention, Triple Canopy does as well, Chris Hill's testimony last week revealed prior knowledge of an assault (which the press has ignored) and more.
Diane Rehm returned Monday as host of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show and today on the second hour, Iraq was a topic for Diane and her panelists James Kitfield (National Journal), Elise Labott (CNN) and Farah Stockman (Boston Globe).
Diane Rehm: Alright, let's talke about Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Iraq which is presumably more under control but it sure doesn't look that way. He's in the Green Zone and the bombs are dropping all around him.
Just a mile from where he was having lunch with Prime -- or Ramadan, kind of ending the fast, with Prime Minster al-Maliki. And there were rockets that kind of landed on the American Embassy compound. And that was over two days. It seems to be under control now. This was the third trip that Biden has made this year. He was just there as recently as July. And he's supposed to be the kind of point person in the administration to look over Iraq and we've heard a lot and we've talked a lot on the show about all the security problems that Iraq has been facing in the last few months and this renewed sectarian violence. This was really a political trip. This was a message by the administration to the Iraqi leadership of two things. First of all, they're moving from this military relationship to a more strategic relationship and they want the Iraqis to know that even though the troops are not leaving, the administration is still going to give it that Cabinet level support that it needs and it's also "You need to get your political house in order."
Diane Rehm: Well what about Biden's statement, "If you want us to leave earlier, we will abide by your wishes"?
James: That's been the case for some time, you know, ever since 2006, we ceeded that-that authority to the Iraqis. They can tell us to get out anytime they want. What's worrying the Americans is Prime Minister Maliki running on his support for a referendum on maybe pushing our departure up a whole year so in other words instead of getting out in 2011, get out the end of next year. And we're very worried about that. We think that would be moving too fast the security situation is not stable enough and these-these rockets, even while Biden was meeting in the Green Zone with Maliki, kind of underscore our concern.
Diane Rehm: Farah?
Farah: Well I just also wanted to point out that a lot of violence in the north in Kirkuk and Mosul, and uh --
Diane Rehm: He talked to Kurdish leaders as well.
Farah: Right. I think the Kurds are also -- there's a lot of tension between Arabs and Kurds and this was not a story that we were hearing a couple of years ago. You know the Kurds have oil and they want to develop their oil fields by giving a higher percentage of uh profits to these oil companies that are coming in. They want to sweeten the deal and uh Maliki's people don't want to do that. So that when they give the Kurds money for their oil, they want the Kurds to take, uh, to take a hit basically to take a bigger cut out of their own money. There's a lot -- they still haven't passed the oil law and a big agenda on Biden's -- a big agenda item for Biden.
Elise: One of the things also on his agenda was "Listen you need to incur more foreign investment. You need to sweeten these deals for the foreign investment that's coming in." And so he's saying there's going to be a big conference in Washington next month on kind of incurring foreign investment and so they really need to get that oil law in order and also there's some security problems in the north that's where as we we said a lot of these attacks are and the administration it seems are going to try to take a bigger role in trying to settle disputes between Arabs and Kurds which are really shaping up to be the dirtiest part of the politics in Iraq right now.
US Vice President Joe Biden has been in Iraq this week meeting with various leaders. Yesterday's news, unremarked upon in US outlets, would be the political jockeying of Ibrahim Al Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki as both worked overtime to prove they could be the most insulting to a visiting foreign official. Both made pointed remarks to outlets about issues such as Iraq's elections being Iraq -- and only Iraq's -- business. For those late to the party, Jaafari was the prime minster before Nouri. He was also the first choice of Iraqi MPs to be prime minister in the spring of 2006 but the US nixed that and demanded Nouri. Jaafari is part of the new Shi'ite alliance (Iraqi National Alliance) and it's thought that Jaafari's presence was what had Nouri insisting he wouldn't join the alliance unless he was promised that they'd re-nominate him for prime minister following January's scheduled elections. They refused to meet that demand and Nouri has not joined the alliance so far.
The KRG notes that Biden was in Erbil Thursday and met with various officials including KRG President Masoud Barzani, KRG Prime Minister Nechivan Barzani, KRG Prime Minister designate Barham Salih. Barzani and Biden held a joint-press conference and the KRG quotes Biden stating, "The United States understands that the Kurdish people, like so many other Iraqis, suffered terribly -- suffered terribly under the rule and the regime of Saddam Hussein. And the United States and the rest of the world will never forget that. The transformation and the economic development of this region since 2003 -- indeed, since the 1990s -- has been a truly remarkable transformation and a success story." Barzani is quoted stating, "We reiterate our commitment to the constitution of Iraq and to solving outstanding problems through dialogue and peaceful negotiations with Baghdad." In addition, the KRG adds, "The discussions focused on the Kurdistan Regional Government's relations with Baghdad, the unresolved status of Kirkuk and Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. The pending hydrocarbons law, the governance system in Iraq and the commitment to the Constitution were also discussed." UPI adds, "Joe Biden's visit to Baghdad earlier this week -- his third this year -- came hot on the hells of a lightening visit by Russia's energy minister as the scramble for Iraq's oil riches heats up. Just as Sergei Shmatko sought favorable terms for Russian companies in an upcoming oil contract auction, Biden was hustling on behalf of the U.S. oil giants who have long dreamed of getting their hands on what may be the largest untapped oil reserves in the world." Bill Van Auken (World Socialist Web Site) also reports on the oil issues of the visit, "In his meetings with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is Kurdish, and Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Biden apparently pushed for a compromise with the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad on the issues of territorial borders and control of oil. [. . .] During the course of his visit, the US vice-president has made clear his concern that a bigger piece of this pie should go to the American oil companies, whose interests have played a prominent role in the prosecution of the Iraq war since well before the invasion of March 2003."
On Tuesday's CNN's Situation Room, video here, transcript here, Wolf Blitzer informed that CNN's Chris Lawrence was "the only television correspondent traveling with the vice president". Lawrence explained that they got "on the plane and left out of Andrews Air Force Base, we didn't even know where exactly we were going or when we would get there. This is one of those secret trips -- not like going to London or Paris or visiting allies like that. So it was all kept very hush-hush." Chris Lawrence landed the only US television interview with Biden from Baghdad (click here for video). Ross Colvin, Tim Cocks, Missy Ryan and Jon Boyle (Reuters)report, "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pressed leaders of semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan on Thursday to compromise on the potentially explosive issue of how to manage and share the country's vast oil wealth. Biden said he did not expect the long-running feud over land and oil between Iraq's minority Kurds and its Shi'ite Arab-led government in Baghdad, seen a main threat to its fragile stability, would be settled before national polls in January."
In Mahmoudiyah today, shoppers were surprised by a bombing. Xinhua reports the bombing took place "at a crowded market". Iran's Press TV explains it was a car bombing and adds that the city is "south of Baghdad . . . located within the so-called 'Triangle of Death' where sectarian tensions hiked in 2006 and 2007". Khaled al-Ramahi, Tim Cocks and Sophie Hares (Reuters) report that the bombing claimed 7 lives with twenty-one more left injured and remind that Mahmudiya was last rocked by bombings September 10th. In addition, Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) adds a Baghdad roadside bombing wounded two people.
Turning to the topic of reports and studies, Nat Hentoff (Metro West Daily News) notes Physicians for Human Rights' August 2009 report "Aiding Torture: Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 inspector General's Report" and says, "This PHR report quotes from a February 2004 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on interrogations in Iraq, but as PHR has previously noted, "hooding was used both during transportation and during interrogation," not only in Iraq. And we can only guess what special forms of hooding were invented in the CIA's secret prisons." For the report [PDF format warning], click here.
According to the February 2004 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on treatment of deatinees in Iraq:
Hooding [was] used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. One, or sometimes two bags, sometimes with an elastic blindfold over the eyes which when slipped down, futher impeded proper breathing. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity. Hooding could last for periods from a few hours to up to 2 to 4 consecutive days, during which hoods were lifted only for drinking eating or going to the toilets.
Still on the ICRC, as noted in yesterday's snapshot, the US military closed their prison in Camp Bucca. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a photo essay of families visiting prisoners in Camp Bucca and notes, "For families who used to visit their relatives detained in Bucca, southern Iraq, the journey was always long, perilous and costly, but well worth it. Since October 2005, the ICRC had helped make the journey possible, not least by covering part of the costs. In Spetember 2009, with the closure of the American facility at Camp Bucca, the ICRC ended its family-visit programme. During the four years that the programme ran, almost 30,000 detained people received 146,000 visits from their relatives with ICRC support."
Meanwhile David Bedein (Philadelphia Bulletin) reports RAND Corporation's "Withdrawing from Iraq: Alternative Schedules, Associated Risks, and Mitigating Strategies" from July was submitted to Department of Defense this week. Bedein notes that the report found that the central government in Baghdad would not be able to 'eradicate' al Qaeda in Iraq.
The report was released in July and (my summary) it argues that a draw down is fine but US troops cannot leave Iraq. Because of al Qaeda in Iraq? No, the report is primarily arguing that a full US departure would lead Turkey to invade. And, since July, it's been a rare week that the report's assertion hasn't been decried by some Turkish news outlet. For example, Sunday Hurriyet Daily News ran the editorial "From the Bosphorus: Straight - RAND report wreaks of arrogance:"
There was a time, a certain age of innocence really, when it was possible to despise the CIA and associated intelligence agencies for their apparent evil. But today, we must regard them with contempt for their stupidity.
A case in point of international diplomacy at its arrogant worst is the new RAND Corporation report upon which Daily News Ankara bureau chief Serkan Demirtaş reported in the weekend newspaper. The "sponsored" research by RAND basically urges the U.S. Obama Administration to threaten Turkey with "negative consequences" to its European Union bid should any incursion into northern Iraq impede American withdrawal from that desperate and war-torn country.
[. . .]
So we take great offense that RAND believes Turkey should be muscled into continuing this policy as insurance against a military incursion by Turkey in the wake of an Iraqi civil war sparked by the American exit. Such a report, particularly if embraced by Obama as policy, is simply a guarantee that the legitimacy of the "Kurdish opening" will be challenged by many in Turkey and probably derailed. Essentially, RAND's warning risks a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We take particular offense that RAND would suggest U.S. coordination with European allies to make sure Turkey "understands" that any move into Iraq will harm the country's EU bid. RAND should "understand" Turkish sentiment. It is clear this institution does not. And this is why we can only summon contempt for a report that reeks of arrogance.
This has not been a minor issue in Turkey and Hurriyet is among the most recent to weigh in and Sol's reporting on it today. It's surprising that a RAND report which has caused so much controversy hasn't been reported on by the networks or US daily papers. Or maybe not surprising.
The authors of the report are Walt L. Perry, Stuart E. Johnson, Keith W. Crane, David C. Gompert, John Gordon, Robert E. Hunter, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Terrence K. Kelly, Eric Peltz and Howard Shatz. In their preface [PDF format warning, click here for report] they note:
The analysis supporting this report was completed in May 2009, and
the illustrative schedules all assume implementation decisions having been made in time for implementation in May, if not earlier. To the extent that such decisions are made later, the schedules would likely be pushed back accordingly. We recognize that any drawdown schedule that calls for U.S. forces remaining in Iraq beyond the end of December 2011 would require renegotiating the Security Agreement between the United States and Iraq.
The SOFA might be renegotiated? The study was prepared at the request of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Are you starting to get why US outlets haven't really explored the RAND study? No, the Iraq War has not ended and doesn't appear to be. Steven Verburg (Wisconsin state Journal) reports, "About 200 Madison-based members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard are heading for Iraq in the next week."
Yesterday's snapshot noted the Istanbul meet-up of Ahmed Davutoglu (Turkey's Foreign Minister), Hoshyar Zebari (Iraq's Foreign Minister), Walid Mualem (Syria's Foreign Minister) Amr Moussa (Arab League Secretary General). Today's Zaman notes the meeting continued on Firday and that Turkey's Foreign Minister "Davutoglu also said the meeting in Istanbul would be preparation for the upcoming meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, which will be held in Baghdad, with Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presiding over the meeting." He states, "This is such an important project that, when realized, peoples living side by side for centuries will reunite in a shared economic basin. Our capabillities and assets will be mobilized to create a very powerful economic region." Barcin Yinanc (Hurriyet Daily News) reports, "Turkey again tried to assume the role of 'troubleshooter' Thursday as it pressed Syria and Iraq to ease the tension stemming from Iraqi accusations that Syria is behind bomb attacks in Baghdad." That's how it's reported in Turkey -- a long, long way from assertions Hoshyar Zebari has made on Al Jazeera TV where he repeatedly insists that Turkey sees Iraq in the right and Syria in the wrong.
Meanwhile, on the topic of Iraqi refugees, a rebuke to Nouri and his strong-arm attempts on relief agencies and the United Nations. Julian Isherwood (Politiken) reports Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi "has urged Denmark to reconsider the forced repatriation of Iraqis whose requests for asylum in Denmark have been refused." The Copenhagen Post adds that "Helle Lykke Nielsen, associate professor at the University of Souterhn Denmark's Centre for Middle East Studies, believes the message is a way of telling Denmark that its current method of forcing Iraqis back to their country needs to be changed." Nouri al-Maliki has been eager to force the returns. He's now joined by the dim bulb Chris Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq. Testifying to Congress last week [see Thursday's snapshot here, Friday's here and Kat's post here], Hill insisted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Iraqi refugees had to return for Iraq's own security. Yeah, the widow who saw her husband and oldest son shot dead before her and now lives in Syria? Without her, all of Iraq will crumble. Chris Hill was so very lucky that the press had little interest in his testimony. It was with the House Foreign Relations Committee, for example, under direct questioning from US House Rep Ted Poe that Hill had to admit the US had prior knowledge that the assault on Camp Ashraf and the Iranian refugees in the camp would take place. Hill was blabbering on about assurances that Nouri had given that the residents would be treated fairly and humanely and Poe interruped.
US House Rep Ted Poe: Excuse me, just to clairy the question -- or the answer -- was this before or after the security forces came into Camp Ashraf that we got this assurance?
Chris Hill: This uh, was before, because our -- The UN mandate for the -- for us to run -- to be responsible for uh this camp ended at the end of 2008 -- after 2008 -- that is, starting January 1, this year -- it is the sovereign and sole responsiblity of the Iraqi govenment and because of that, we sought from them written assurances that they would treat them humanely and that they would not forcibly repatriate them where they would be -- they could be -- tortured or persecuted based on their religious or political beliefs.
US House Rep Ted Poe: It doesn't appear that they have been treated humanely if eleven of them were murdered and thirty-six others were arrested.
Chris Hill: Well on July 28th, Iraqi forces went in to try to set up a uh police station. They regarded that as uh an exercise of their sovereignty because Ashraf is in Iraq.
US House Rep Ted Poe: Did we know about that before it happened?
Chris Hill: We -- I understand that -- They told us that -- Yes, they were going to do this.
So not only were their warnings from members of the British Parliament but Nouri -- according to Hill -- informed the US government that the 'action' was going to take place July 28th. For those who've forgotten, US troops were in the area when the assault took place and were ordered to stand down as they saw people bloodied. After his exchange with Poe, way after, US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee raised the issue and he fell back to "my previous answer" (to Poe) and declared that the US had "two committments that wev'e seen in -- what we've had in writing from the Iraqi government. One, that they will respect the human rights of the camp residents. And, two, that they will not engage in any forced repatriations to Iran." Yes, that was a ridiculous response. Nouri had already broken the early agreement with the assault on July 28th. As US House Rep Sheila Jackson Lee observed, "Well I think that they're handling their business poorly and I would ask that, if there are human rights violations this blaring, we need to have answer and I appreciate if we'll have the opportunity to get them."
Answers would be good on contractors as well. (Sheila Jackson Lee pressed Hill on that issue but he tossed out a lot of words to say nothing.) Today T. Christian Miller and Aram Roston (ProPublica) report that Triple Canopy -- sold as the 'better' choice when compared to Blackwater -- has a long history of its own scandals: "questionable weapons deals, government bungling and a criminal investigation that was utlimately closed without charges bieng filed, according to newly released files. Company employees told federal investigators that Triple Canopy swapped booze for weapons and supplies from the U.S. military. They said the company bought guns and other arms on the black market in Iraq. Some worried that the money was flowing into the hands of insurgents, records show."
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on most PBS stations and this week's topic is:
Commercial surrogacy -- when women are paid to carry and deliver babies for people who cannot conceive them biologically -- is banned in almost every developed country in the world except the U.S., making it a land of opportunity for parents around the world.
In June, celebrity parents Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker announced publicly they had twins delivered via surrogate. But surrogacy services and their oversight vary from state to state, creating a strong potential for deceit and fraud.
This week, NOW's Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa follows the surrogate pregnancy of a single mother over the course of several months. When she was 14 weeks pregnant, the surrogate agency that brokered the deal between her and the future parents vanished, leaving the woman stranded without health insurance and nowhere to turn.
NOW investigates how shady surrogacy services and a lack of regulation in the U.S. may be defrauding hopeful couples and victimizing mothers trying to help them.
Washington Week also begins airing tonight on many PBS stations and sitting around the table with Gwen tonight are Ceci Connolly (Washington Post), John Harwood (New York Times), Greg Ip (The Economist) and Martha Raddatz (ABC News). Remember that there is a web bonus each week that you can grab on podcast (video -- they also have audio podcast but it doesn't include the bonus) or wait for Monday morning when the bonus is available at the website. Also, a PBS friend asks that I note that they didn't just redesign their website at Washington Week, they added many new elements. One sidebar is on the right and it contains links to the latest writing by Washington Week regulars such as CBS and Slate's John Dickerson's article on health care at Slate. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Karen Czarnecki, Donna Edwards, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Tara Setmayer to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. Online, they address the announcement that Diane Sawyer will begin anchoring ABC's World News Tonight next year. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers: