Friday, October 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, still no 'progress' on Iraq's election law, Iraqi Christians consider fleeing due to violence, the United Nations says Iraqis should not be forced to return to Iraq (pay attention England and Denmark), Gordo Brown decides British lives are worth less than Iraqi oil, the US Congress forgets Iraq, and more.
This morning on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show (second hour, international hour), Diane was joined by panelists Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Moises Naim (Foreign Policy) and Janine Zacharia (Bloomberg News). Iraq was noted in the following:
Diane Rehm: Let's go right back to the phones, to Kansas City, MO. Good morning, Ron.
Ron: Good morning. My question deals with the economic development. I was -- I traveled in Iraq and one of the things that I saw there wasn't really -- for all the billions of dollars that we were spending over there -- there's not a lot of economic development taking place. So, you know, that's lacking. My understanding of Afghanistan is that they were once -- they are geographically located in what was known as "The Old Silk Trade" -- that's between the Middle East and Asia. And I want to know what's going on to try to redevelop that in the way of infrastructure with roads and railroads which would allow them to have a place into the global economy which should be the essential goal that the United States would want?
Diane Rehm: Let's take Iraq first. Abderrahim?
Abderrahim Foukara: Well the issue of economic development, it has at least two impediments in Iraq. One is corruption. And the second one is political instability. Now Prime Minister Maliki was here in Washington recently. They're saying -- both he and President Obama have been saying -- Iraq is now stable enough to start focusing on economic development. Now that's one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it is that the whole focus on economic development as we have seen it talked about here in Washington during Prime Minister -- Prime Minister Maliki's visit is that Iraq, which has sort of fallen off the radar here in the United States, is actually still not doing well politically. And talking economic development is one way of diverting attention -- people's attention -- from the real problems that continue to bedevil Iraq. [. . .]
Diane Rehm: Janine?
Janine Zacharia: Well you know too echo what Abderrahim said, Prime Minister Maliki came again this week to say "Iraq's open for business" but it truly is not open for business when you still have the sec -- Correct, the political situation is involved so we don't know what's going to happen with January elections, but the security issues is still paramount. You cannot -- American businessmen or international businessmen cannot go and roam around Iraq and set up shop right now and import Coca Cola and do all these things without being worried about being blown up. [. . .]
Diane Rehm: Moises?
Moises Naim: Economic development is very, very difficult. Economic development in the middle of a war is impossible. So it doesn't matter. There's no country ever that's developed on the basis of foreign aid. You can pour as much money as you want and unless you have a functioning market and investors, commercial activity -- development will not happen. And it's impossible to have that if you have a war going on.
We're not doing the "Afghanistan snapshot" so "[. . .]" indicates they then turned to the issue of Afghanistan. We will note Afghanistan in a moment, in terms of a Congressional exchange led by US House Rep Susan Davis. But first, let's note the political referred to above.
Howard LaFranchi (Christian Science Monitor) observes, "Once again the US finds itself hostage to Iraqi politics -- this time as a result of a standoff among Iraqi political parties over an overdue election law." If you're saying "Huh?", you were sleeping last week when Gina Chon was warning the Thursday date was approaching and Iraq appeared to be missing it. Parliamentary elections in Iraq are said to take place this coming January. That's after they were already kicked back. They were supposed to take place in December. They kicked it back to January. Last week, on Thursday, they were supposed to have passed the law and didn't. And still haven't. On Wednesday, the Pentagon's Michele Flournoy appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and stated that Iraq actually had two more weeks to pass it. (Kat covered the hearing here.) Flournoy also stated they could just pass legislation on what day to hold the election and leave all matters to the 2005 election law -- which, no, would not be 'progress'. She left out the part about Iraq's court system finding that law to be unconstitutional. While Flournoy attempted to downplay, others aren't doing so. Michael Jansen (Irish Times) observes, "The US military may have to put on indefinite hold its plan to dispatch additional troops to Afghanistan if Iraq's election does not take place on time in January. [. . .] On Wednesday, after prolonged debate, the Iraqi parliament admitted failure in its efforts to draft a new election law to govern the coming contest and asked the Political Council for National Security to take on the task." "Thrown in doubt" is the call Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) makes and goes on to note of the High Electoral Commission: "The commission, responsible for organizing polls in Iraq, has said that it needs 90 days to print and distribute ballots. Iraqi and UN officials fear that the election could be delayed if lawmakers fail to pass a revised election law this week." The New York Times editorializes in "Counting Backward" that when it comes to the elections, Iraq's Constitution must be followed (they appear to forget that Iraq's Constitution also covers Kirkuk -- click here for more on that and don't miss the latest Inside Iraq for the issue as well). Barbara Surk (AP) reports today that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's spokesperson stated the Ayatollah wants the elections to take place January 16th as has been announced. Howard LaFranchi explains:
The situation, which caught Obama administration diplomats off guard as they have focused attention on Afghanistan and the electoral crisis there, is reminiscent of the stalemate the Bush administration faced in 2007 concerning a series of "benchmark" laws the US Congress sought in return for continuing support to Iraq.
At that time, US diplomats spoke of "two clocks" in the two capitals to explain the discrepancy between Washington's demand for quick political action and Baghdad's refusal to be rushed.
The two clocks are on display again, with US diplomats including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton imploring Iraqi leaders to pass an election law. For their part, some Iraqi politicians say it is Americans and not Iraqis who feel a need to hurry on legislation that cuts to the heart of Iraq's power struggles.
The election law should have been approved by Oct. 15 in order for elections scheduled for Jan. 16 to go forward, according to the Iraqi constitution.
Alsumaria reports that the National Security Political Council will discuss the election law tomorrow when they meet. Former Reagan administration official Lawrence J. Korb (Center for American Progress) is on the ground in Iraq gathering impressions and, in his latest piece, he notes:
Iraq is a fragile state, and it can become a stable or failed state depending on whether the government increases or decreases in legitimacy and competence. If it does not become more competent or regresses, there is danger of a coup. Losing legitimacy could lead to a civil war.
From Parliament issues to the US Congress, we're dropping back to yesterday. And we'll start with a question: Does the US Congress exist to help scoundrels rake in more ill gotten gain?
Thursday, we (Ava, Wally, Kat and myself) attended a hearing that was a complete waste of time unless you're a lobbyist/business person needing Congress to give you a stamp of approval. We attended the waste of time hearing because it was entitled "Afghanistan and Iraq: Perspectives on US Strategy." Due to votes, there was a lengthy break in there and, if we'd been smart, we would have bailed during the break because after one hour of that hearing, one hour when NO ONE mentioned Iraq, it was as obvious as it was embarrassing -- embarrassing for the US House Armed Services Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Do they have trouble reading on the Hill?
For most of us in the United States, a hearing entitled "Afghanistan and Iraq: Perspectives on U.S. Strategy" would be about . . . Afghanistan and Iraq. So where the hell was Iraq?
They didn't have time for it. They had time to call war mongers "public servants."
What the hell is Barry McCaffrey doing testifying to Congress to begin with? Retired general? BR McCaffrey Associates, LLC is his company. And his company is in the business of prolonging wars so when he says the military has to stay and when he refers to the 'justifiable' "anger" Americans had towards Afghanistan -- and laments it being gone -- every damn word out of his mouth is suspect because he's working the street, under the street lamp, trolling for bucks.
In April 2008 documents obtained by New York Times reporter David Barstow revealed that McCaffrey had been recruited as one of over 75 retired military officers involved in the Pentagon military analyst program. Participants appeared on television and radio news shows as military analysts, and/or penned newspaper op/ed columns. The program was launched in early 2002 by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The idea was to recruit "key influentials" to help sell a wary public on "a possible Iraq invasion."
[. . .]
Shortly after the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, McCaffrey exclaimed on MSNBC: "Thank God for the Abrams tank and... the Bradley fighting vehicle." The "war isn't over until we've got a tank sitting on top of Saddam's bunker," he added. The Nation noted, "in March  alone, [Integrated Defense Technologies] received more than $14 million worth of contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware." 
The above says he's got nothing to say that isn't either suspect or paid for. He sells war and he profits from it. There is no reason the US Congress needs to waste their time or US tax payer dollars getting Barry's opinion on Afghanistan. He is not, no matter how many times some members of Congress got it wrong, "a public servant." He is a lobbyist and he lobbies for war. That's reality.
Reality is also that if you're hearing's entitled Iraq and if US forces are in Iraq -- more than are in Afghanistan -- it's pretty damn stupid and insulting not to even shoot the s**t about Iraq in passing during the hearing. Now Pakistan the subcommitee made time for in the hearing despite Pakistan not being in the hearing's title.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert made an idiot of himself (no surprise there) in an online discussion with David Brooks (Brooks was no better but the world has grown accustomed to that). Here's Herbie:
Bob Herbert: David, the president is deciding what we should be doing with regard to troop deployments in Afghanistan. It seems to me that however one feels about this war and the war in Iraq, the environment here on the home front is bizarre. This is as weird a wartime atmosphere as I can imagine. For most Americans, there is nothing in the way of shared wartime sacrifices. There is no draft. We have not raised taxes to pay for the wars. Except for the families of those in the military, most Americans are paying very little attention to these conflicts. I've brought this matter up a few times on college campuses and the response has been, in essence, a collective shrug.
We addressed that in terms of the press last night (click here). But, hey, Bob Herbert, what does it say when the US Congress forgets the Iraq War? Riddle me that, Bob Herbert.
Here's a section of the hearing:
US House Rep Susan Davis: Help me with this issue because we are continuing to raise the issue of the role of women and whether or not we're abandoning them in any way if we move into negotiating or how we're able to have some kind of reconciliation in Afghanistan -- we want to focus on them. Where -- where does security lie because clearly the military has paved the way for many efforts in Afghanistan. I mean there's no doubt about that. And yet on the other hand, I understand that it's perhaps overly ambitious of us to believe that all of those efforts with the military and civilian capacity both are not necessarily in the best -- are picking up the best -- the best interests of the Afghan people -- or the region, assuming that Pakistan we're talking about as well. Do you want to -- Ms. Cole?
Beth Ellen Cole: I think that with governance -- like all of these issues -- we have to enlarge our view of security. I mean security is not just something that military forces can bring to the communities of Afghanistan. In the United States, we think of the security as school guards and bank guards and people who protect judges. And it's not just a question of military or police forces. Border guards, people that are dealing with looking at money laundering and bank operations and we -- in that sense, this -- the debate about troops is a very, very important debate but we have to think about the other assets that we have to bring to bear including -- with the Afghans -- including putting women as police officers in certain places or as school guards which we've shown we can do in Liberia. [. . .]
US House Rep Susan Davis: General Barno, do you have any thoughts?
Lt Gen Dave Barno (retired general): Two things. I think one, on the issue of security, you're absolutely correct that there -- it's not a sequential problem of security and reconstruction and development, these things are concurrent , these things have to parallel with one another. [. . .] The other question I think you alluded to was this idea of "What does it mean to women if we negotiate with the Taliban?" That's a paraphrase of what, perhaps, I think you were saying you were saying. And-and I do think we have to be aware that in my estimation, I think from a policy standpoint right now, having the Taliban be part of the government of Afghanistan is not where this is going, is not the objective. Having reformed Taliban, ex-Taliban, Taliban that have rejected violence, put down their weapons and join the political process, that's a very different outlook. The small "t" if you will, the individuals, not-not the movement. And I think that's where we have to be careful that we don't inadvertently send this message that we're willing to negotiate with the Taliban because we're really trying to exit -- as opposed to we're willing these Taliban, former Taliban fighters, lay down their arms and become part of this political process. Our goal when I was there was not to kill the Taliban -- collectively in the big strategic picture, it was to make the Taliban irrelevant, make no one want to become part of the Taliban, no one aspire to the Taliban and that takes a very nuanced approach of many different elements of simply security and military forces.
US House Rep Susan Davis: Mm-hm. Mr. Waldman, can I just real quickly get a response from you on that?
Matthew Waldman: Sure. I-I-I mean, in terms of security [. . .] But as has been said by Ms. Cole, the notion of security is much broader and-and of course, really security will political strategy which is indigenous In terms of women, you're absolutely right to raise this, I think it's a very serious issue. I think the-the-the -- when one travels the country and talks to Afghans, it's very clear that they want their girls to go to school -- if you look at the numbers now, over 2 million girls in school, yeah, you know, there's this universal desire to see that happen and for women to have the uh, in most areas, for women to be able to work and have rights, freedoms and rights that-that men have. It is alarming that the Shia law was passed recently, which you're probably aware of. And I certainly think that one has to ask about the commitment to the current administration to --
Us House Rep Susan Davis: Yes --
Matthew Waldman: -- women's rights.
US House Rep Susan Davis: -- which is doubtful.
Matthew Waldman: Yeah, yes. It certainly is. And uh we've yet to see real substance behind the-the-the work to try to-to empower women and to uh support their opportunities and rights. But you're also right that there is concern about women's rights after -- as negotiations move forward. Now of course reconciliation -- truth and reconciliation -- is essential in Afghanistan.
To review the participants above: Cole works for the US Institute of Peace (US government), Waldman works for the Carr Center AGAINST Human Rights (US government mouthpiece with a major in counter-insurgency studies and cheerleading) and Barno (Near East South Asia Center For Strategic Studies -- billed as "the preeminent U.S. Government institution for building relationships and understanding in the NESA region"). So the US government is more than well represented and we can all chuckle and pretend the stammering and stumbling Waldman represented the land of academia as well. So what did Barry represent? The War Machine. So that gets a seat at the table in front of Congress? That's really pathetic and really shameful and it's past time that Barry was pulled from Congressional panels because he's not an expert and he uses the fact that Congress calls on him as part of his business portfolio.
Now we didn't highlight the above exchange to say: The US must stay in Afghanistan for the women! That's b.s. The Afghanistan War's gone on long enough. Suddenly, the US gives a damn about women's rights? No, it's time to fly that false flag and see if you can get anyone to salute it.
No one should.
And you need to relate it back to Iraq where women did have a higher social standing, the highest in the region. And they've lost all that. It's much too late to worry about women's rights. Women were sold out by the US government and it was not by accident or happen-stance. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US government made the decision (after making the decision for illegal war) to install thugs with US ties that they thought they could interact with (in stealing the natural resources of both countries) and that they thought could terrorize the local population (the non-exiles) into a state of fear where they would not fight back.
They went for thugs. They installed thugs. Thugs don't respect rights. They don't respect women's rights, they don't respect women. At the start of this month, Najaf banned alcohol -- and not out of any concern over alcoholism but to 'condemn' the 'sin' of drinking alcohol. They're reactionary zealots and thugs and they were installed because that's what they were.
We do not need to get caught up in the cry of "for the women!" -- of Iraq or Afghanistan. The US has destroyed the lives for women in both countries and the US is not the one who can fix it. They've had more than enough time to try. They don't give a damn. With Iraq, US President Barack Obama could have sent a powerful message by making the US Ambassador to Iraq a woman. He wasn't interested. He went with the inept Chris Hill. And, as Republicans in the Senate knew, Chris Hill would screw things up because that's what he does -- as his personnel file demonstrates -- and they knew they could turn around and use him in any campaign. "Chris Hill screwed up Iraq!" "We had the surge and everything was wonderful! Then Chris Hill was installed!"
The Obama administration refuses to learn from mistakes and refuses to anticipate them. The arrogance is what is bringing them down (and, yes, they are being brought down -- the hero worship is over). Republicans (the current incarnation) would not attack Ray Odierno. He's military. So if they wanted to attack on Iraq -- a very serious issue to many voters -- they were going to go civilian. Therefore, who Barack appointed as ambassador was a serious issue. He or she was going to be attacked regardless. A competent woman doing a wonderful job would still have been attacked by the Republicans. But that said (whomever was installed in the post would be attacked), it's no excuse to install an incompetent of either gender but that's what happened with Chris Hill.
As Janine Zacharia observed on NPR today, violence continues in Iraq.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing last night (no one wounded or killed apparently), a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier. Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 man and left his wife and their three children wounded and a Baaj roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul on Friday, 1 traffic police officer shot dead in Mosul and one police officer wounded in a Mosul shooting.
Tuesday Mike noted, "Reuters reports, 'Iraq will temporarily shut down thousands of schools in two provinces and some in Baghdad after discovering 36 new cases of the H1N1 flu virus, Iraqi officials said on Tuesday'." Today John Leland (New York Times) reports on the "nearly 2,500 school closings" which have resulted from the fears or concerns: "Dr. Ihsan Jaafar, general director of the Public Health Directorate in the Health Ministry, said the number of cases was insignificant, especially compared with neighboring countries, where infection rates were much higher."
Yesterday's snapshot noted the United Nations High Commisoner for Refguees (UNHCR) released a new report entitled "Asylum Levels and Trends in Inudstrialized Countries First Half 2009: Statistical overview of asylum applications lodged in Europe and selected non-European countries." The report found that Iraqis continued to be the number one aslyum-seekers around the globe. Today UNHCR's Andrej Mahecic spoke on the issue of Iraqi refugees and the forcible deportation of them:
UNHCR is concerned about the fact that some European states have begun forcibly returning Iraqi originating from the region of Central Iraq over the last few months. In our guidelines issued last April, we noted that in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates, asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection. UNHCR therefore advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from Central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country.
This reminder comes after the UK attempted to forcibly return 44 Iraqi men to Baghdad earlier this month. They were reportedly unsuccessful asylum claimants held in immigration removal centres in the UK. Iraq only accepted 10 who were allowed to leave the chartered aircraft in Baghdad, and the remaining 34 were returned to the UK and placed in immigration centres.
Other European states have signed readmission agreements with Iraq for voluntary and forced return. Denmark has forcibly returned 38 people originating mainly from Central and Southern Iraq since signing its agreement in May 2009. Sweden has undertaken some 250 forced returns with an unspecified number of returnees originating from the five central governorates of Iraq since signing an agreement in February 2008. UNHCR has also concerns about the safety and dignity of these returns.
Concerning asylum-seekers from the three northern governorates, as well as those from the southern governorates and Al Anbar, UNHCR recommends that their protection needs are assessed on an individual basis.
A significant number of Iraqi refugees are Christians. Mindy Belz (World Magazine) recounts some of the recent violence aimed at Iraqi Christians: "In May a 32-year-old Christian teacher was kidnapped in Kirkuk, but freed two weeks later by a joint operation between the Iraqi army and Awakening forces, or former insurgents now siding with Iraqi and U.S. forces. On Aug. 18 insurgents kidnapped a 50-year-old Christian physician named Samir Gorj. A passerby, also a Christian, who tried to come to his aid during the abduction was shot and killed." After his family piad a larger ransom, Gorj was released. "Then on Oct. 3 Imad Elia, a Christian nurse in Kirkuk, was kidnapped in front of his home and found dead in the street two days later." Meanwhile Sardar Muhammad (niqash) reports that Iraqi Christians are weighing whether or not to flee Kirkuk due to an increasing violence, "Local Christians say that they are now targets of armed groups and tens of them have been killed and kidnapped, while their churches have been bombed."
Iraqi refugees aren't the only ones being returned by others. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) reports the British government is sending the country's Royal Navy back to Iraq "to help train Iraqi sailors and protect oil platforms" according to the UK's Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell. To protect the oil, imagine that. Of especial interest to the US is this section of Rammell's statement:
The House will be aware that the UK concluded combat operations in Iraq on 30 April, and that our combat forces were withdrawn by the end of July in accordance with our previous arrangement with the Government of Iraq.
"Combat forces" are 'gone.' Because "protecting oil" is a non-violent effort? Point: The UK returns to Iraq. There was no withdrawal. "Combat" forces is a joke. Combat forces as opposed to that brigade of Iyengar Yoga instructors the US military usually deploys? On the UK's return, as Rebecca observed last week, "gordo even screws up a withdrawal."
In the September 4th snapshot, the following appeared:
Meanwhile Quil Lawrence (NPR -- text only) reports that Iraqi security forces are using an instrumbent to detect bombs that probably doesn't do that: "Many U.S. officials say the science is about as sound as searching for groundwater with a stick. [. . .] One American expert in Baghdad compared the machine with a Ouija board but wouldn't comment on the record. A U.S. Navy investigation exposed a similar device made by a company called Sniffex as a sham."
The NPR story you mentioned about a dubious explosive detector understates the problem. This is the latest in a long history of fraudulent explosive detectors that are dowsing rods. 15 years ago, the FBI busted the company, and when they opened the detectors they found they were empty. When they raided the factory, the FBI found the company was photocopying a Polaroid photo of cocaine in order to tell the detector what the molecular signature was. And in a stroke of genius so that competitors or foreign countries could not reverse engineer the "detection signature chip" they printed the photocopies on black paper. The company moved overseas, has changed the name of the product multiple times, but it has never passed a test showing it is more effective than flipping a coin as to finding explosives or drugs.
Sniffex was a copycat product by a Bulgarian "inventor" that came out a few years ago. The US distributors were arrested and prosecuted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for using the device as the basis of a stock scam, but the new Sniffex Plus is still for sale to consumers overseas. I have been to the Middle East, and seen these in use outside hotels and other businesses.
TV notes. Tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings), NOW on PBS explores global warming:
Is climate change turning coastal countries into water worlds? NOW travels to Bangladesh to examine some innovative solutions being implemented in a country where entire communities are inundated by water, battered by cyclones, and flooded from their homes.
Imagine you lived in a world of water. Your home is two-feet under. You wade through it, cook on it, and sleep above it. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, coastal populations on the front lines of climate change.
Only weeks before world leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss climate change, NOW senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa travels to Bangladesh to examine some innovative solutions -- from floating schools to rice that can "hold its breath" underwater -- being implemented in a country where entire communities are inundated by water, battered by cyclones, and flooded from their homes.
Many PBS stations begin airing Washington Week tonight as well (remember there is a web extra to each show if you podcast and you can check out the web extra the following Mondays when it is also posted to the website). Joining Gwen around the table this week is Dan Balz (Washington Post), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), David Sanger (New York Times) and Deborah Solomon (Wall St. Journal) -- and the show plans to remember journalist and Washington Week panelist Jack Nelson who passed away earlier this week. Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Bernadine Healy, Avis Jones-DeWeever and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
Medicare and Medicaid fraudsters are beating U.S. taxpayers out of an estimated $90 billion a year using a billing scam that is surprisingly easy to execute. Steve Kroft investigates.
Fighting For The Cure
More Americans are suffering from epilepsy than Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis combined. Katie Couric reports on a disease that may not be getting the attention it deserves. | Watch Video
When Hollywood refused to produce his films his way, Tyler Perry started his own studio in Atlanta and now his movies - including the popular "Madea" series - are drawing huge audiences. Byron Pitts profiles the new and unlikely movie mogul. | Watch Video
60 Minutes, this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.