Monday, October 12, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 12, 2009.  Chaos and violence continue, there is no election law in Iraq, the faux peace movement comes out in favor of US forces remaining in Afghanistan (just as they walked away from "Out Of Iraq Now!"), real peace activists weigh in on the Nobel Peace Prize and more. 
Sunday Ramadi was rocked with violence. Mohammad al Dulaimy and Jamal Naji (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "First, they bombed a crowded parking lot outside the Anbar provincial government's headquarters. Seven minutes later, they detonated a car bomb aimed at the rescue workers. An hour later, a third bomb exploded outside the hospital where survivors were receiving treatment."  The Los Angeles Times puts the death toll at 26 and McCatchy says over eighty were injured. Zhang Xiang (Xinhua) cites an unnamed Interior Ministry source stating 80% "of the wounded were policemen and 10 percent of the injured were in a critical condition".  Uthman al-Mokhtar and Nada Bakri (Washington Post) explains, "Rumors spread through Ramadi and other parts of the province about who was behind the statacks.  Some suggsted government officials were involved, part of the fallout from months of negotiations over creating alliances for Iraq's parliamentary elections in January." And with rumors come the denials. Timothy Williams (New York Times) quotes Anbar Province's Deputy Governor Hekmet Jassim Zeidan stating, "The police commanders are not doing their job the way it should be done. We have pointed out the mistakes and failures among the police, but no one has done anything to correct the problems."  That was Sunday and we'll return to it later but we'll move over to today's violence right now.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured four people (one a police officer), a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded five people (including "a high-ranking officer in the ministry of interior" whose car the bomb was attached to), a Diyala province bombing targeted "sons of the mayor of Abu Khamees" killing two and wounded a third (the "sons of the mayor" are also members of Sahwa, "Sons Of Iraq," "Awakenings"), a Buhruz roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 construction worker and wounded two more and an Anbar Province home bombing (home "of one of the Sahwa leaders"). Reuters notes a Mosul home bombing which injured one woman and her four children, two Buhriz roadside bombings which claimed 3 lives and left three people injured (Reuters also notes the Buhriz roadside bombing Sahar Issa does -- there are three roadside bombings reported today in Buhuriz) and a tailor shop bombing in Mosul which injured one person.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 construction worker shot dead in Mosul.
The Iraqi Diaspora is the topic of the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) and host Jasim Azawi discussed it with Nidhal Garmo (For Victims of War and Poverty), Raed Jarrar (American Friends Service Committee) and Houzan Mahmoud (Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq).
Jasim Azawi: Nidhal, let me start with you.  You are an Iraqi-American citizen. You are a pharmacist based in Detroit, Michigan.  And for the past ten years, you have been involved in Iraq sending aid and money to Iraq.  But since the invasion of 2003, you've been going to Iraq, taking surgical and medical equipment to Iraq. Exactly what draws you to Iraq?  Is it your roots? Is it the desire to help?  What is it?
Nidhal Garmo: It's a mixture of every good thing a human being can think. Years ago, I used to watch TV, especially Al Jazeera, and I used to get hurt when I see the African children are dying hungry, the people from Palestine are living this miserable life -- like refugees.  I never thought that one day Iraq -- the safest, most beautiful country, my country, my family, all Iraqi people are my family -- would go through this ordeal so I decided to do something about it rather than watching the TV and crying every single day and night for them.
Jasim Azawi: I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands like you and one of them is Raed Jarrar.  Raed, you are an architect, your masters thesis is in post-war reconstruction. In what way can you help Iraq, given your experience?
Raed Jarrar: I was in Iraq during the sanction years and during the invasion and I actually did do some reconstruction projects after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 based on community organizations and Iraqi efforts. Unfortunately all these attempts that I started and that many others started failed and could not continue because of the political and military situation in Iraq.  Now my dissertation, I talked about how Iraq will go through three different phases of rebuilding.  The first one is the immediate relief after the disaster and during the disaster that Iraq is going through and after that we will go to the reconstruction phase and after that it will allow us to reach to a development phase. Unfortunately six years into the occupation after the fall of Baghdad, we're still in the relief phase.  The reconstruction phase did not start yet.  So it is still very, very primitive and I think there are so many people with capacity to help rebuilding Iraq and initiate reconstruction campaign that would bring the country back to life.  But they are marginalized, mostly outside the country and the ones inside the country cannot actually participate in a functioning campaign yet.
Jasim Azawi: Given what he said, Houzan, that reconstruction is still way off and you are involved with a human rights organization, is human rights a luxury for Iraqis right now? Is it too early to talk about it given that it is almost the bete noire of the Iraqi government? When you work in Iraq, are you watched by Iraqi government?
Houzan Mahmoud: Certainly.  I mean, human rights is not a luxury.  It's a basic rights for human beings to live with freedom and their rights be respected.  I mean considering that people in Iraq have lived under dictatorship for thirty years followed by another six years of devastation war and occupation, these people deserve rights, they deserve freedom and they deserve a simple life with basic rights included. Of course when the Organization of Women's Freedom or any other organization tries to bring the violation of women's rights or children's rights or human rights into the attention and the authority of the international community, the Iraqi government don't like it because they think it's an exposition of their lack of governance of the country. And that's why the role of people like us who are involved in activism for human rights, for women's rights, for labor rights in Iraq is really vital because I think if a country -- if any given society, even if there's no war or any problems at all, if human rights is not respected, if women's rights is not recognized by the government than how can we talk about anything else really? So that's why I think human rights is fundamental.  It's very, very detrimental for any other basically laws or rules in that country or that society.
Jasim Azawi:  Nidhal, now that security is relatively better than in the past two years -- at least that's what the Iraqi government keeps telling us and US forces in Iraq.  To what extent, security aside, are you facing bureaucracy, are you facing sectarian affiliation? For instance, say this medical equipment and surgical equipment you're bringing us, it should go to a certain part of Iraq, to a certain sect rather than given and distributed equally.
Nidhal Garmo:  Any place that I can put my foot on it in Iraq, I would say 90% of Iraq is in need if it's not 100%. I will, if I'm able to do it, I will do it. Not any place that I specify. I look for the most needed areas and if I have the chance and a little bit of support from the government or the Ministries of Health, I'll do it. I have a chance to do it.  There's nothing going to stop me from doing it. I'm not worried, I just believe I always hear from God.
Jasim Azawi: Do people tell you, Nidhal, that, "We are," for instance, "in northern Iraq, in the Chaldean Assyrian community, we need this and you are one of us, help us."  You know that, "The Iraqi government can look after other people"? 
Nidhal Garmo:  Yes.
Jasim Azawi: Do you face that?
Nidhal Garmo:  Oh, I hear that, I hear that not only from my own community, the Chaldean community, which been supportive a lot of me but not everybody -- Everybody wants to benefit their own people.  That's something natural.  But I've been facing some hardships, being Christian, Chaldean and with the situation with the war, it's not only hitting the Iraqi people, the problem is not only between Sunni and Shia and Christians and Muslims, it's also there in America.  In Michigan, my own community, I hear it from people and I tell them, "Listen, the war doesn't know Muslim and Christian."  When you go to a hospital, I'm taking medical and surgical supplies and medication.  Anybody in need in any country, in any place, you need to help them.  You want to help the poor?  There are a lot of poor in Iraq. You want to help the sick?  My God, I've been visiting hospitals and when you see a child that is dying of cancer, you're not going to look at his face or you ask his parents, "Where is he from?"  He's Iraqi child that needs help.  That will not stop me.  And of course, this is part of hardships but if you are strong and you believe in God and you want to help people, you'll do it.  You'll not worry about this kind of things because we need to educated people and help them.  They've already been suffering in Iraq --

Jasim Azawi: Yes
Nidhal Garmo:  So we are there for them.  I don't discriminate and we are heading to the south very soon hopefully.  They need us the most.  Especially in Basra.
Jasim Azawi: We wish you the best, Nidhal, in all of your efforts but, Raed Jarrar, the history of Iraq and the United States is forever entwined because of the invasion of 2003.  I'm almost reminded by the linkage between the United States and Vietnam.  The two names have become synomous. In Washington, where you live, there is a powerful organization called AIPAC and that is the Jewish-Israeli lobby that promotes Israeli interests.  Can we dream and can we think about one day the Iraqis will establish a powerful organization promoting Iraqi interests in the US?
Raed Jarrar: I mean, some people have been trying to do that.  There are a number of Arab or Muslim pressure groups and some groups that try to promote Iraqi interests.  I personally think that that is important, to have groups to promote dialogue between Iraq and the United States --
Jasim Azawi: But given the division among the Iraqi community, will that be, will that be possible?
Raed Jarrar: Yeah, it will be possible but not following the same model that AIPAC has been doing.  I don't think -- as a US citizen as well, not just someone who was born in Iraq -- I don't want to create yet another group that leeches on the US and takes the United States' interests as second to -- as AIPAC has been doing.  Through my work, I've been thinking about how the US can play more -- a smarter role in the region.  To stop occupying and destroying nations like Iraq and to have better channels of dialogue. Now unfortunately, so far, the Iraqi community in the United States has not been organized enough to start a strong dialogue group.  They're not united enough, unfortunately, to ask for ending the occuption.  We still have a lot of different opinions within the Iraqi community in the US so it's more complicated than that. Where we stand now, I think that's too early to talk about. What we talk about now is the US should first stop its crimes, its occupation, its daily destruction of Iraq and then, once that done, we can talk about rosy future and the groups --
Jasim Azawi: Indeed you're right, Raed Jarrar, because the question of occupation versus liberation is still reverbarating not only in Iraq but across the world.  But Houzan, let us talk about the future.  In January there will be a Parliamentary election. In what ways Iraqis living abroad can help?  Some people are volunteering as eleciton monitors.  Given the fact that the election of 2005 and even before, it was not cordial, it was not Westminister type of election, was it?
Houzan Mahmoud: That;'s true.  I mean the first election that was held it was held in a very terrible situation where there was absolutely no security and these political parties available there were even not known properly to the people in Iraq. I mean there was absolutely lack of security.  Whereas considering that somehow the situation is calmed down now, there is a chance for people to know who to vote for and there's a chance for political parties and groups and organizations as well as individuals to put forward themselves basically to represent people's interest in the Iraqi Parliament and we -- in our organization -- we will be discussing soon, how to actually be part of the monitoring of this coming election by, as you said, to become a volunteer to monitor the elections.  And I think people abroad, they can take positive steps and they can be part of something. It's really a matter of responsibility towards people in Iraq and towards the political processes there.  I mean, I might not agree with every single political party or people who are on the list to be elected but then as individauls, as campaigners, as political groups, as people who are progressives and we want Iraqi people to have a better future, we are responsible, we feel like we have responsibility to do something.
And now we're back to Sunday's bombings in Ramadi.  A number of people are arguing the violence is related to or wanting to impact upon 'planned' elections. No one in the press knows why the attacks are happening so it's all speculation.  There is a pattern though for those who paid attention.  (Not spoon feeding the lazy press here.  See Hilda's Mix tomorrow morning, it's covered there.) Quil Lawrence (NPR's Morning Edition -- link has transcript and audio) grasps that there are no knowns at this point and, speaking with Steve Inskeep this morning, explained, "With all of these bombings there are questions in Iraq. There are still too many violent actors here to really be able to point a finger. In some ways it could have been one of the parties that wants to embarrass the current government and show that they aren't really delivering the security, which is the main plank of their campaign platform -- is that they've pacified Iraq. At the same time, there are a lot of people who have been released from detention as America has been transferring its custody of detainees to the Iraqis. A lot of people have been released. One police chief in Anbar told me that he thought the America prison camp in Camp Bucca in the south of the country was essentially a training camp for jihadis, and that some of them are now back on the streets in Anbar province." Telegraph of London insists, "A reinvigorated insurgency would pose a grave danger to the country's fragile stability as it prepares for crucial parliamentary elections early next year."  Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) adds that the bombings are being seen by some as an attempt to influence elections while the United Nations is saying that the 'scheduled' January 16th elections might "have to be delayed because of squabbling within Iraq's legislature over what kind of election law to adopt and the composition of the commission that will oversee the poll." Here's the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq's statement in full:

Baghdad - 11 October 2009 - Today the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ad Melkert expressed UNAMI's concerns that with 96 days before the election there remains no clarity on the election law. Mr. Melkert reiterated the United Nations' support for election preparations and promised continued technical advice to the IHEC in all the essential areas of its activities. He stated that "holding parliamentary elections on 16 January appears to be something that is strongly desired by the people of Iraq, will be a vital milestone for the Iraq's democratization process, and called for by the Iraq Constitution".
UNAMI fully respects last week's parliamentary process and the desire of members of the Council of Representatives to question the IHEC Board of Commissioners. The SRSG suggests that a thorough evaluation of IHEC's performance in carrying out all electoral activities in Iraq since 2008 should be undertaken by the Council of Representatives once the results of the January 2010 elections have been officially announced. At this stage, however, UNAMI believes that significant changes to the institutional set-up in IHEC would severely disrupt the ongoing electoral preparations to the point that it would not be possible to hold credible elections until a considerably later date.
UNAMI is optimistic that, with its continued and indeed expanded support, the IHEC should be able to deliver credible election results in January 2010 that will be broadly accepted by all political factions and the Iraqi voters. But to achieve this, preparations will need to be accelerated in a number of areas, and support is required from many parts of the Government. At the same time, the SRSG once again urges the Council of Representatives to clarify the legal framework for the elections in the coming week.

So now the elections might be on hold? For those who have forgotten, these elections were supposed to take place this December and have already been pushed back a month.  That was among the excuses US President Barack Obama gave for breaking his campaign promise of US troops out of Iraq in 10 months.  (He dropped it from 16 months to 10 months while speaking in Houston, Texas in February 2008.) And now elections might have to be put on hold?  Wait, are elections even scheduled.  Testifying to the US House Armed Services Committee September 30th, the top US commander in Iraq, Gen Ray Odierno, explained the upcoming (or 'upcoming') vote.
General Ray Odierno: I'll wal -- Congressman, I'll walk you through in general terms.  First, the el - by the [Iraqi] Constitution, the election is supposed to occur no later than the 31st of January. Right now, it's scheduled for the 16th of January. Again, pending the passing of the election law.
That was September 30th.  Tick-tock, tick-tock.  It's twelve days later, where's the election law?  Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports, " Iraqi legislators face a Thursday deadline to approve an election law for January's parliamentary polls, while opposition grows against plans for a so-called closed-list ballot."  That's 'progress'?  Jim Muir (BBC News) reports on the sticky points of any election law, "They include differences over the minimum age for candidates and their educational qualifications, and over what constituency basis should be adopted. There are also concerns over arrangements for the disputed city of Kirkuk in the north and the question of whether electoral lists should be 'open' or 'closed'."  Kirkuk?  That issue was supposed to have been resolved long ago.  The 2005 Iraqi Constitution dictated that there be a referendum on the matter.  The 2007 White House benchmarks that Nouri al-Maliki signed off mandated that he resolve the issue as dictated by the Iraqi Constitution.  These election will take place (at some point) in 2010 and Kirkuk's never been "resolved."  'Progress'?  US forces have been kept on the ground in Iraq with the American people repeatedly lied to that the US forces were just there currently for peace, to give space for the (installed) government (of exiles) to conduct political business.  They've done no such thing.  There's been no movement.  And this lie that US forces need to stay for political movement is as much a lie Bush's WMD assertions. 
Barack and other War Hawks like to talk "safe withdrawal" and "responsible withdrawal."  Bulls**t.  Like there's anything "safe" or "responsible" in dropping bombs on people?  In using drones?  In using counter-insurgency?  We expect that from the War Hawks.  Expect it from I Need Attention Benjamin as well.  Jodie Evans' personal maid already walked away from Iraq, long gone is the cry of "Out Of Iraq" now.  Apparently Afghanistan isn't offering I Need Attention and CODESTINK enough opportunities for press.  Scott Horton (Antiwar Radio) interviewed Medea Benjamin and was confused going into the interview due to a report quoting Medea in the Christian Sciene Monitor. Medea insists she was misquoted but goes on to repeat the same crap she claims was a misquote.  Scott Horton's radio program and a transcript of it can be found here.  In the excerpt below, you may have to repeatedly remind yourself that it is Medea Benjamin speaking and not George W. Bush.
Horton: What did they ever do to the United States?
Benjamin: Well see, if your perspective is just from the United States. My perspective is also from what they did to the women of Afghanistan. But if your perspective is truly from the United States, what people say is that if we allow the Taliban to take over Afghanistan then that will be a safe haven for Al Qaeda.
Horton: Yeah, but that's no different is it than the National Review saying, you know, Saddam Hussein was really bad to the people in Iraq. I think this is why all over Facebook today they're saying, "Ha, ha, and again, for those tuning in late, she did say, it's Medea Benjamin from Code Pink. She did say the Christian Science Monitor's reporting was not altogether accurate here. But all over Facebook they're saying, "Ha, ha, I guess she'll have to apologize to Condoleezza Rice now. And "Ha, ha, I guess this proves that obviously that McChrystal is right. If Code Pink and McChrystal both agree that the occupation has got to be better in order to quell the violence, then by golly we know it's right." Like when Bill Clinton and George Bush agree about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
Benjamin: Well I think it's just full of distortions, because what we say is we want a responsible pulling out of U.S. troops and we certainly are against what McChrystal is calling for. We're against sending in more troops, we're against troops being visibly present in the villages because we think their presence is more of a threat to people there and puts them at risk. And we want our troops to pull out. We just want to do it in a way that is not going to lead to a Taliban takeover that will put women back inside the home.
Let me be clear, concern for Afghan women?  You should have raised the issue much earlier this year the way some of us with guts did, Medea.  But you're a coward and you're a publicity whore.  You're tired and you need to sit your ass down.  US forces need to leave Iraq and to leave Afghanistan NOW.  Not tomorrow, not a year from now, not three years from now.  The US cannot fix either 'problem' and that's even if it wanted to; however, nothing in Afghanistan over the last eight year or in Iraq over the last six has indicated the US wants to fix one damn thing. (And regardless of 'desire,' it's not any foreign country's place to 'fix' another country.)  The US put thugs in charge of both countries because thugs could intimidate the people and bring some form of 'stability' to the country.  US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan have never, NEVER, concerned themselves with the people of either country.  Stop the lying, stop the bulls**t.  I'm not in the mood for liars.  Thank you to Medea for not just being such a craven little whore but for being so publicly.  We started calling out her and CODESTINK some time ago and of course those who check in on Iraq once every three months couldn't understand that.  Listen to the Horton interview or read the transcript.  Medea Benjamin and CODESTICK are officially trash now.  They're not about ending any war, they are about providing cover for Barack Obama.  They have made themselves clear.  What was obvious to many of us some time ago is now transparent.
The woman who ensured the Green Party would not have a viable candidate in 2004 and would not have a real shot at being a third party is now doing her part to wreck the peace movement.  Greens may have put up with her s**t but the peace movement won't.  You take trash to the curb, you don't let it (mis)lead a movement.  Medea and her ilk were allowed to turn the peace movement into an Elect Barack campaign and then, after Barack was elected, they went around lying that Iraq War was ending.  The Iraq War has ended.  Friday Elaine noted that AP's Jennifer Loven reported, "He said he would end the Iraq war. But he has been slow to bring the troops home and the real end of the U.S. military presence there won't come until at least 2012, and that's only if both the U.S. and Iraq stick to their current agreement about American troop withdrawals."  Only if.  And there's no indication that they will -- either side. But we do know that last week, Matthew D. LaPlante (Salt Lake Tribune) was reporting, "And some Utah units have been told to anticipate deployments to Iraq as far off as 2012."  And we do know that the Iraq War continues to drag on.
In an attempt by a foreign government to bribe a US sitting president (one million dollars is a bribe -- whether Barack donates it to charity or keeps it), Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait) is calling for signatures and letters on the topic though she probably would have positioned herself better by remembering the Iraq War.  Kenneth J. Theisen (also World Can't Wait) offers, "I've been around awhile so I am not easily shocked, but this did shock me at first.  I have been writing about Obama for a few years and have followed his career in politics and could not imagine why he had been chosen. But as I was more fully awake it made perfect sense to me, given some of the past winners of the Prize.  Past U.S. winners have included Teddy Roosevelt (1906), Woodrow Wilson (1919) and Henry Kissinger (1973) and Jimmy Carter (2002).  These winners did much to advance U.S. imperialism, as Obama is trying so hard to do as President and Commander-in-Chief."  Also at WCW, Cindy Sheehan declares, "The US Peace Movement was put on life support with the election of Democrats.  I hope now that we have a president who is just a tool of the war machine AND a Nobel Peace Laureate that it hasn't put the final nail in the coffin of the Peace Movement."  At her own site, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan adds:

It's true, Obama did not begin the wars, but he is sending more troops to all theaters. That doesn't sound too peaceful to me. Torture, indefinite detention, "crippling sanctions," threats towards Venezuela and Iran; silent support of a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected President in Honduras and so on, ad nauseum, are all the "accomplishments" of this Nobel Laureate.     

I was tear-gassed and chased down by US stormtroopers in Pittsburgh for wanting to express my opinion when the leaders of the G20 were assembled a couple of weeks ago. I saw those same imperial stormtroopers shoot children with rubber bullets or bean-bags filled with steel in the Empire's new game of, not protest suppression, but protester attack. Are these the actions of a country that is "led" by a Nobel Laureate?    

It also comes to me that I chained myself to the White House fence last Monday and was arrested, along with 61 others, protesting the Laureate's war polices, as he met with his "War Council." Five hundred more of us were there. We were and still all are adamantly opposed to the war policies of The Laureate.      

What does that make us candidates for?                  

The Bizzarro World Peace Prize?                    

The only "vision" that has come true today, is George Orwell's 1984: War is Peace; Ignorance is Strength and Freedom is Slavery.