Monday, October 26, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Monday, October 26, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq's death toll from yesterday's massive bombings rises and includes children, finger-pointing becomes the favorite past-time, a US 'helper' and his ties to an oil company are explored, a US Iraq War resister seeks sanctuary in a Canadian church, and more.
Sunday Baghdad saw bombings resulting in a higher death total than Black Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday, Gory Wednesday August 19thEleanor Hall (Australia's ABC's The World Today -- link has text and audio) explained, "Twin suicide bombers targeted the Iraqi Ministry of Justice all but destroying the government department's headquarters, which are just outside the high-security 'green zone' in the centre of Baghdad."  Shane McLeod added, "The sound of the second blast was captured by a mobile phone video camera being used to survey the aftermath of the first. Targeted was the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, just a few hundred metres from the fortified green zone in Baghdad." Sahar Issa and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) report that Iraqi government figures are stating that "a water tanker and a refrigerated food truck" were used in the attacks. This morning, Jack Kimball and Michael Christie (Reuters) report that the death toll has climbed and is currently at 155 with over five hundred left injured.  Rod Nordland (New York Times) observes that "an uncertain number of children" are among the dead. CBS News and AP add that 24 "children who were killed were on a bus leaving a daycare center near the Justice Ministry when the attack occurred".
 Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) sketch out yesterday's assault, "Cars clogges the road as tehy approached the traffic circle in front of the Justice Ministry, with its statue of modern Iraq's first ruler, King Faisal, mounted on a horse. An old white pickup truck had broken down by the traffic circle and its driver approached a policeman and started yelling. [. . .] It was then that the first of two car bombs exploded on opposite ends of the block." Xinhua adds, "Xinhua correspondent at the scene said that he saw ponds of blood and parts of human bodies scattered close to the blast site near the Mansour Hotel where the wreckage of dozens of civilian cars could be seen near the site." Martin Chulov (Guardian) offers, "Witnesses described body parts sprawled across the area. Mohammed Falah, was caught in the blast: 'There was a woman's leg next to me. I picked it up and gave it to the ambulance'." 
Well, first of all, the first thing to say is that, you know, there is no peace in Iraq, that these bombings, first of all, put the lie once again to the three myths that we've been pushed about the war in Iraq: first, the story that the war is over; second, that we won the war; and third, that the lessons of this victory can be applied to Afghanistan. The fact is that what passes for calm in Iraq today isn't peace at all; it's a fragile, fraying truce after a brutal sectarian civil war, and it's a truce without reconciliation that -- because it's put in place a system that is a continuing engine for violence, and tragedies like these are a legacy of the American occupation and will remain one for years to come. So, bombings like these today -- or on Sunday were attempts -- I mean, you know, they're being blamed on al-Qaeda in Iraq, and it seems likely that it was a group like al-Qaeda in Iraq that carried them out. And there are attempts by those extreme elements inside the Sunni insurgency to target the Shiite-led government, which they see as their sectarian enemy, but also to try to draw the Shiite militias back into an all-out civil war that could unite the Shiites again in their resistance. I mean, bombings like the ones on Sunday are remarkable for their massive scale, the carnage they cause, but there are multiple bombings in Iraq every single week.
[. . .]
 And yeah, absolutely, I mean, the government in Baghdad is seen by al-Qaeda in Iraq and by the extremists inside the Sunni resistance as a proxy, as an Iranian proxy, dominated by the Supreme Council and by the Dawa Party, both parties that were -- well, I mean, the Supreme Council was formed in Iran, and Dawa, you know, spent most of its existence in Iran. And, you know, these parties were put by the US in mid-2004, were put in charge of the government, and their militias were turned into the core of the Iraqi security structure. So, as the civil war kicked off, the main protagonists in the civil war were militias inside the police force that were -- came from these parties and, you know, versus Sunni insurgents on the outside who were doing bombings and these kinds of soft-target attacks on civilians. So, you know, clearly, I mean, institutions and ministries that are controlled by ISCI, the Supreme Council, and by Dawa are definitely seen as sectarian enemies. I mean, the Ministry of Justice, as well, you know, it's -- the police and the court system have been seen in the -- I mean, not so much the court system. The police and the prison system in Iraq have been seen as one of the tools in the sectarian fight that the Shiite militias have used from the very beginning.
Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) noted yesterday that the charge of "al Qaeda in Iraq" was instantly being made by some including Nouri al-Maliki, US-installed thug of the occupation. Mohammed al Dulaimy and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers -- link has text and video) add, "Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, released a statement blaming elements of Saddam Hussein's predominantly Sunni Baath Party and militants from al Qaida in Iraq for the attack. As of late Sunday, no group had claimed responsibility." Yes, Maliki couldn't wait to start (yet again) blaming former Ba'athists.
ELEANOR HALL: Given the number of people killed though in these two recent attacks and the outrage from the public that we are already hearing, I mean what is this attack and the August one likely to mean for the elections in January?   

SAM PARKER: Well, clearly it undercuts Prime Minister Maliki's main narrative which is Iraq was chaos and he brought it back from the brink. It definitely hurts him and certainly if you look at what has followed the August bombings there has been a lot of that, a lot of finger pointing and a lot of people saying your claims are bogus. That Iraq is just as unsafe as it has always been and that generally is not true.I mean, yes you can point to these like high-profile mass casualty attacks and as tragic as they are, overall death counts in Iraq are still, even despite these attacks, are still much lower than they have been at any period except for right after the invasions. So for the entire war, we are still at the lowest points and so these large scale attacks largely had propaganda value to them.
Liz Sly and Usama Redha (Los Angeles Times) explain, "It is Maliki who stands to lose the most from a security breakdown, because he is campaigning on his record as the leader who helped restore a good measure of security after the sectarian warfare that raged after the U.S.-led invasion. Overall, violence is down 90% since the peak in 2006, U.S. commanders say." Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) adds, "The attacks came at a precarious moment in Iraqi politics. Parliament has yet to agree on legislation to organize the planned Jan. 16 vote, despite warnings by the United States and the United Nations that time will probably run out by next weekend. Critics have also complained that some of the key officials charged with security -- Maliki and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani -- are more engaged in the election than in running the country." Kurdish MP Mahmoud Othman tells Al Jazeera, "This sends two messages, one of them is to the investment conference in Washington held just a few days ago as if to tell investors not to come to Iraq . . . At the same time I think it may be a message to the meeting today of the political council of national security." Baghdad governor Salah Abdel Razaq tells Elizabeth Palmer (CBS News), "The bodies I have seen -- these innocent people, what have they done? To have this destiny, it is very terrible."  Timothy Williams (New York Times) explains, "In large part, Mr. Maliki's popularity has rested on the belief that he has kept the country reasonably safe. But the bombings at four high-profile, well-protected government buildings within a two-month span led some Iraqis to say Sunday that they were reconsidering their support for Mr. Maliki." It should be noted that "Mr. Maliki's popularity" -- like Ashlee Simpson's talent -- is something that's been assumed but never verified.  Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) provides a voice for people on the streets such as vendor Abbas Fadhil who states, "This is all from the political parties -- they want to gain seats in the election." Um Ali tells Arraf, "There had to be someone with official backing behind this -- how could they get through the checkpoints? Why are our children, our sisters still being killed? For 20 years we've been fighting." 
Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) puts the bombings into the larger instability landscape that is Iraq: "The timing of the Sunday bombings coincided with plans by Iraq's top political body, the Political Council for National Security, comprising top political leaders and cabinet ministers, to consider ways to end a stalemate over a crucial election law needed to begin work ahead of the vote. The legislation has stalled over disagreements between factions over how the vote will be conducted in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region in the north torn by sectarian and ethnic tensions among the area's Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen."
Ranj Alaaldin (Guardian) offers his take on the bombings:
A broad analysis suggests complicity on the part of the Sunni-Arab world: keep Iraq unstable and you stop the country from becoming an effective Iranian client state when the US withdraws; or, at the very least, facilitate terrorist attacks in the country and you have some form of a counter-measure to Iran's unmatched influence. Alternatively, the attacks on Kurdish-run and Shia-run ministries may have sought to encourage incorporation of the Sunnis, specifically the Sons of Iraq fighters, into the Shia-led government, which has so far been slow in doing so. The objectives are not necessarily independent of each other.
A more straightforward analysis suggests prime minister Nouri al-Maliki as the prime target of all this: destabilise Iraq in the run-up to January's parliamentary elections and you hurt Maliki's chances of success, as he will be campaigning on the same security platform that won him this year's provincial elections. Indeed, things are not looking too rosy for the premier now that he has lost his security card. Iraqis will struggle to list his achievements in recent times and find the country no closer to better services and increased employment levels.
It takes a certain death toll for Iraq to make it back on to the headlines. Despite the presence of some 120,000 US troops (and 100 or so British naval trainers who were recently let back into the country) Iraq appears to be old news. In many people's minds it is yesterday's conflict; the surge was a success and the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is a democratically mandated strongman who is bringing economic success to the country -- or so the narrative goes.
And as the instability thrives, Nouri depends upon US forces to prop him up. Mohammed al Dulaimy and Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) explain, "U.S. Marines arrived at the scene of Sunday's attack with Iraqi forces, in accordance with a U.S.-Iraq security pact that requires American forces to coordinate with their Iraqi counterparts before getting involved in combat or other operations. Americans at the scene asked Iraqi security guards for surveillance videos from buildings in the area, and investigators took soil samples and carted off pieces of twisted metal." The US government has attempted to call the assault a "terrorist" attack -- it's a war.  All sides could be labled "terrorists."  That would inclue the US which bombed and raided Iraq for the last six years and counting. It was an attack, it was an assault.  It was not "terrorism."  It was an attack which took place in an ongoing war and was most likely aimed at a government installed by foreigners and made up of Iraqi exiles who spent most of the last decade living abroad.  Wamith al-Kassab (MideastYouth) ponders the bombings:
what just happened? Cause I watch the news every day ,and I saw Hilary Clinton give a speech on Iraq-American conference in Washington and she was promising the Iraqi displace families that there will be efforts to return them to Iraq as security improved , Almalky said in his speech in the same conference that security in Iraq has improved and today Iraqi people can go outside at night and drive safely to visit the holly shrines in Najaf ( Iraqi leaders measure security by the times when people get killed visiting holly shrines and days when people can go safely ,which brings us to bigger question , is security in Iraq related to shiaa visits to shrines or it is a whole state security?)           
yes , the Iraq I left after working for 7 years in medical camps for refugees ,was a safe place ,I mean it was not totally safe , cause there is few nasty bad boys who usually beats the hell of journalists in the middle of the streets ,and threats to kill you cause you post some bloges on human rights every now and then , and yes ,if I return today my chances is zero to go out of Baghdad airport alive ,but come on ,I am only 1 person and this is small terrorist attacks that should not effect the magnificent large picture of security change in Iraq ,we had 600,000 Iraqi soldiers most of them trained in Jordan ,Kurdistan ,few went to USA ,all of them were train by Americans ,we had security companies( they work to protect the VIP only ,but any way we had ones) ,we bought armed cars ,we bought weapons ,we had police forces ,the support forces from Sunni ( waking councils) ,we had beshmerka ( Kurdish army which sometimes goverment say they are militia ,others time they are official army) ,we had small armies for each party in Iraq ,we had many people who carry guns and I do not know why ,just I know you do not whanna mess with them.            
So we had allot of people who formed check points with metal and weapons and explosive detectors devices ,we had concrete walls all over Baghdad and we had traffic jam because of the check points has to check each car to prevent terrorist from attacking the innocent
Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "On Monday, streets around the devastated buildings remained closed to traffic. The blasts sheared the front off the Justice and Municipality ministry buildings, leaving floors caving under collapsed ceilings." Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal)  adds that "Iraqi police and soldiers were carrying out intense searches at checkpoints" today.
Violence continued today in Iraq.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Karbala suicide car bombing which claimed the life of the driver and 4 civilians leaving fourteen more people injured, a Mosul sticky bombing which wounded one person and a Falluja roadside bombing which injured four people.
 Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports  1 Turkoman shot dead in Mosul. Reuters drops back to Sunday to note that 2 people were shot dead (two more injured) in Mosul.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports  1 "young boy" kidnapped in Kirkuk.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports  1 corpse was discovered in Kirkuk
(man who had been kidnapped Saturday).
We'll move over to Canada to note, as requested, Krystalline Kraus (Rabble) reporting on US War Resister Rodney Watson:
The latest flashpoint in the battle to keep war resisters in Canada has been
the case of Rodney Watson who on Monday October 19, 2009, decided to seek
sanctuary in a B.C. [British Columbia] church rather than face deporation to the United States to face desertion charges. Watson, who is originally from Kansas City,  Kansas, enlisted in the US Army in 2004 for a three-year contract with the intentions of becoming a cook since he wanted to serve the troops in a non-combat capactiy.
In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq just north of Mosul, where he was put in
charge of searching vehicles and Iraqi civilians for explosives, contraband and
weapons before they entered the base. He was also expected to "keep the
peace" by monitoring Iraqi civilians who worked on the base and fire his weapon
at Iraqi children who approached the perimeter.
When he was informed he was being deported, Rodney sought asylum at the church. Earlier this month, Stig Nielsen (Metro Vancouver) reported:

Rodney Watson of Kansas City had just returned from a deployment in Iraq in 2006 when the U.S. army extended his contract for three years. Watson said he felt he had served his time and that he wasn't about to go back to a war he doesn't agree with.                  
"The main thing was the disrespect for the people -- some guys would have a bad day and they would just beat up on some Iraqi civilians," Watson said.
He deserted three years ago and crossed the border into Canada, where he fell in love and became a father.

The 31-year-old is at First United Church on Hastings Street in Vancouver where he's been granted asylum since September. Camille Bains (Canadian Press) reported that he was ordered deported September 11th:

Ric Matthews, lead minister of First United Church in Vancouver, said the board and the congregation support Watson.             
Matthews said he met Watson at a rally organized on his behalf by the War Resisters Support Campaign and that Watson later approached him about staying at the church.         
"There will be an effort to try and help create the momentum for something constructive to come out of this," he said.                
"I think the United Church in general, beyond just us, would now be working through some of our people who have experience in working with refugee claims and in engaging with government in conversation."           
Matthews said Watson's fiancee and son often visit him at the church, which provides daily meals for people in need.     
Back to Iraq. On the latest installment of Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) which began broadcasting Friday (streams online as well), Jasim al-Azzawi explored the conflict of 'help' and enrichment by examining the apparent conflicts of interests which have ensnared
Peter Galbraith.
Jasim al-Azzawi: When Norway's most respected financial newspaper, Dagens Noeringsliv, covered the activities of a small, Norwegian oil company called DNO operating in northern Iraq, no one expected subsequent investigations to implicate the former US politician Peter Galbraith. Ambassador Galbraith is now suing DNO for a quarter of a billion dollars because the Kurdistan Regional Government has squeezed him out of his 5% stake in the company. What is more devastating for Iraq is the role Mr. Galbraith played as a political consultant to the KRG writing Iraq's Constitution in a way that can only be described as a potential ticking time bomb. This story has all the marks of dual loyalty, betrayal and international intrigue. [. . .] I am now joined from Oslo by Terje Erikstad, a financial news editor at Dagens Naeringsliv and from London by Sabah al-Mukhtar, president of Arab Layers Association in London. And we were also supposed to be joined by Mohammad Ihsan, Minister for Extra-Regional Affairs of the KRG but unfortunately we were informed at the last minute that he fell sick and cannot join the program. Sabah and Terje, welcome to Inside Iraq. Terje, let me start with you.  Were you surprised to discover that the name of Mr. Peter Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Croatia and a leading figure in Washington, he had a 5% stake in the DNO?
Terje Erikstad: Yes, indeed we were very much surprised because it all started with a Norwegian company being fined by the Oslo stock exchange. And we started working on this case as an ordinary conflict between a company on the stock exchange and the stock exchange.  And it ended up with Peter Galbraith owning oil interests or having oil interests in Kurdistan. That was very surprising for us indeed. 
Jasim al-Azzawi: Sabah, who is Peter Galbraith? Set the situation for us.
Sabah al-Mukhtar: Galbraith is a professor of international politics in the USA. He was an ambassador in a variety of capacities -- in Croatia and Afghanistan. He was advisor to the US government. He was a man who was being paid a salary by the government of the United States of America. He was at the same time being paid a salary by the Kurdish government as an advisor. And at the same time, he was taking money from a company which is going to apply for oil in Iraq. He has been instrumental in assisting the Americans and the Kurds to produce a Constitution for Iraq which is a designer made country, which is a failed state, to install a government and a regime there that has been looking after the interests of-of Mr. Galbraith. And this reminds us and reminds the listeners and the viewers that this is again history repeating itself. In the past, there was a Mr. [Calouste] Gulbenkian -- Mr. 5% -- during the Ottoman Empire who had five-percent of the oil of Iraq and now we have this man having a 5% interest in the Kurdish area -- in Tawke field in particular -- but now they seem to have turned the table on him. That's why he's on an arbitration course with them. 
Jasim al-Azzawi: If that is the case, Terje, explain to me how come in a very lengthy explanation and justification by the Minister of Natural Resources of the KRG, Mr. Ashti Hara, at the website of the, he mentioned what happened, the genesis of the story of DNO and its operations in Kurdistan for almost five, six pages and yet the name of Peter Galbraith has not been mentioned even once.  How do you explain that?   
Terje Erikstad: Because Peter Galbraith was a secret partner with the Norwegian company you mentioned, DNO International, and this company had two secret partners in their exploration in Kurdistan. The interest of Mr. Galbraith was hidden behind the company name -- behind the company named Porcupine and this Porcupine is incorporated in one of the states in the USA, Deleware, and it was very difficult to know about his identity. We found it through the company registry and it was all hidden, it was -- He is in a conflict with the DNO because the Kurdish government did not recognize his interests when the new oil law was applied to this field, the Tawke field in Kurdistan. And he is now in an arbitration process with DNO. And it was all kept secret until we found out the-the identity of the company in this arbitration process and the man behind it, Mr. Galbraith. The Kurdish government say that they know nothing about this but that is very difficult to understand.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Indeed it is very difficult to understand. Sabah al-Mukhtar, if you were Peter Galbraith, here's a man who spent the better part of almost four years consulting and advising the KRG.  He shepparded them through the lengthy process of the Constitution writing. He insterted some very important clauses to the benefit of the KRG regarding the relationship between Baghdad and Irbil, regarding the oil law, regarding the peshmerga, regarding their territorial authorization.  And yet, at the very last minute, they squeezed him out and they crossed him and the five-percent that he was banking on never materialized.
Sabah al-Mukhtar:  Well I think this is a -- when you have, when you have a dispute between the forty thieves of Baghdad that's what you end up with. You end up with disclosures that I think this is going to run a little more. Galbraith at the present moment has a problem with the KRG but I think within the KRG itself there are a variety of individuals who may have interests vested interests, who may have conflict of interests and that is part of the problem. But to go back to what Galbraith did, in the Constitution, he's the one who instigated the idea that a federation is set up in Iraq, but based on ethnicity which is not the concept of federal government He has encouraged the Kurds and insisted on having the local government -- the local government having priority over the federal government. He has given the local government the final say. He's given the oil rights to the regional government rather than the federal government. He has assisted them in drafting the Constitution which by any stretch of imagination could not be accepted as a proper Constitution to the extent that there is Article 142 of the Constitution which called for a revision and review of that Constitution within four months which -- until now -- they have failed to do.  He then -- he assisted them in working on the idea, what's called "the land grab" -- i.e. taking areas which were not within the regional government of Kurdistan to be part of Kurdistan so that he can have the oil. He has encouraged them to have the -- the type of contract that he signed with them but then subsequently the problem with the federal government and the regional government stopped that contract from going on and I think, for reasons I don't know, there is, they have fallen out. Having paved the way for them to set up this arrangement, he now stands to lose the money but I think he's a man who has been working on conflict of interests on a variety of levels from the USA to Iraq, to the politics, to the Kurdish government and at the same time working for a company which is going to contract with the Kurdish government and this is an extreme case of conflict of interest which I think amounts to an illegal act but I think this is a matter for the US to deal with.
Picking back up on "in a very lengthy explanation and justification by the Minister of Natural Resources of the KRG, Mr. Ashti Hara, at the website of the, he mentioned what happened, the genesis of the story of DNO and its operations in Kurdistan for almost five, six pages and yet the name of Peter Galbraith has not been mentioned even once"?  Jasim al-Azzawi appears to be referring to the letter from Dr. Ashti Hawrami to DNO ("Subject: Causing Serious Harm to KRG Reputation") that the KRG posted -- in PDF format -- September 21st. The KRG has now removed the letter from their website. You can find a copy of it (PDF format warning) here. The letter was quoted from in the September 22nd snapshot.

In order to convert the sleepy, Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia into a dominating military base, the U.S. forcibly transported its 2,000 Chagossian inhabitants into exile and gassed their dogs.
By banning journalists from the area, the U.S. Navy was able to perpetrate this with virtually no press coverage, says David Vine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University and author of "Island of Shame: the Secret History of the U.S. Military on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press)."
"The Chagossians were put on a boat and taken to Mauritius and the Seychelles, 1,200 miles away, where they were left on the docks, with no money and no housing, to fend for themselves," Vine said on the interview show ""Books Of Our Time," sponsored by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.
"They were promised jobs that never materialized. They had been living on an island with schools, hospitals, and full employment, sort of like a French coastal village, and they were consigned to a life of abject poverty in exile, unemployment, health problems, and were the poorest of the poor," Vine told interview host Lawrence Velvel, dean of the law school.
Their pet dogs were rounded up and gassed, and their bodies burned, before the very eyes of their traumatized owners, Vine said.
"They were moved because they were few in number and not white," Vine added. The U.S. government circulated the fiction the Chagossians were transient contract workers that had taken up residence only recently but, in fact, they had been living on Diego Garcia since about the time of the American Revolution. Merchants had imported them to work on the coconut and copra plantations. Vine said the U.S. government induced The Washington Post not to break a story spelling out events on the island.
"Through Diego Garcia," Vine pointed out, "the U.S. can project its power throughout the Middle East, and from East Africa to India, Australia and Indonesia. With Guam, the island is the most important American base outside the U.S." He said U.S. bases now number around 1,000, including 287 in Germany, 130 in Japan and Okinawa, and 57 in Italy.