Thursday, November 5, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, no election law continues, Nouri's attacks on the press continues, a US House Armed Services subcomittee's lack of interest in Iraq continues, and, of course, the war itself continues.
Earlier today Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports that Parliament finished today's session (Thursday's session) "without agreeing" to any election law. Nothing has been passed. Xiong Tong (Xinhua) reveals, "The Council of Representatives postponed the voting on the elections law to Saturday after the lawmakers agreed on a proposal submitted by the parliament's legal committee." Warren P. Stroble (McClatchy Newspapers) adds, "The standoff is jeopardizing plans for national elections in mid-January, as well as the timetable for an orderly drawdown of the 120,000 U.S. troops here, even as President Barack Obama weighs sending tens of thousands more soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan." I believe the only known count was given by the GAO Monday and that was 128,000. Considering that the press has been lazy asses for months now and tossed around the 120,000 INACCURATELY you'd think now that the GAO has presented a hard number, they'd get off their candy asses and try using the correct number. In addition, there's no "drawdown of the 120,000" -- the White House and press ran with 50,000 since the November 2008 election and we stated here the number would be 70,000. The number the White House uses now is 70,000. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Lawmakers said they would meet again on Saturday, but big differences over the legislation remained. After a meeting Thursday evening, the country's election commission decided it would wait until Saturday to make a final decision on whether the polls should be delayed, commission chairman Faraj al-Haideri said. He added that even if a law is passed on Saturday, the commission could still recommend that the elections be delayed depending on which voting system the parliament ends up choosing." Oliver August (Times of London) explains that the Iraqi Constitution mandates the elections be held no later than January 31st and, in addition "[a]n important Shia religious holiday in early February makes it difficult to push back the poll by only a few weeks." Timothy Williams and Sa'ad Izzi (New York Times) report, "Hamdia al-Hussaini, a member of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the government agency that organizes elections here, said she would wait until Parliament met on Sunday to decide whether to postpone the election. Earlier in the week, Faraj al-Haideri, the head of the electoral commission, warned that if a law was not passed by Thursday, he would recommend a delay because there would be insufficient time to print ballots and perform other prepatory work." Sammy Ketz (AFP) quotes election commission head Faraj al-Haidari stating, "We can no longer organise elections on January 16 -- that would have been difficult even if we had received the law today. Whether they retain the old electoral law, amend it or adopt an entirely new one is a matter for members of parliament but we are the ones who will have to implement their decisions according to the timetable. We hope that MPs will resolve their dilemma but we are not going to sacrifice international norms and criteria -- we're obliged to respect the rules so that these elections are transparent." Iraqi MP Ayad Jamal Aldin wrote a letter to the editors of the Guardian on the issue of the elections:
I have written to the head of the UN expressing concern over the possibility of "free and fair" elections taking place in Iraq next January. Repeating the much-publicised vote-rigging seen in Afghanistan, since the last national Iraqi election in 2005, political factions have placed supporters on the Iraqi Electoral Commission to assist them in manipulating the result in the upcoming election. This self-interested action must be defused now, and I am calling on the UN to replace Iraq's Electoral Commission with fresh faces, unaligned and unbeholden to the factions in Baghdad. This could take place immediately, with no disruption to the political process, and would give the best possible chance of a fair vote in January.
A free, fair and properly supervised election in January is absolutely vital for our country's young democracy and the wider region. As has been witnessed in Afghanistan, failure to ensure a free vote is too damaging to imagine.
Ayad Jamal Aldin is running for re-election and promises, at his website, "A better life for Iraqi families" via three steps: "1 million new jobs, especially for our young, Make the electricity system work within 2 years, Major upgrades to deliver running water."
While the election's at a stand-still, the greed factor keeps corporations lusting Iraqi oil. David Gauvey Herbert (National Journal) notes the foreign monies being thrown at Iraqi oil in a long thing piece whose observations include: "Even with more investment, Iraq still doesn't have enough engineers or institutional experience. While Saudi Arabia has half a century of oil expertise under its belt, brain-drain robbed Iraq of plenty of talent under Saddam Hussein and scared off more talent during the turbulent aftermath of the 2003 invasion." This morning AFP reported that the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced today the awarding of a contract to Exxon Mobil for West Qurna 1 field: "West Qurna 1 currently produces about 279,000 bpd and has reserves of around 8.5 billion barrels, according to oil ministry figures." Liz Sly (Los Angeles Times) observes, "Major oil companies have been eyeing Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but the Iraqi government has acted slowly to encourage them. That changed earlier this year as falling oil prices and lagging exports put a squeeze on the national budget. But the June auction fizzled after it emerged that Iraq wasn't willing to pay the fees demanded by the oil companies." Ernesto Londono and Qais Mizher (Washington Post) note the next auction is scheduled for December and that today's contract and the BP-CNPC one indicate "that foreign companies that initially balked at the terms the ministry offered at a public auction in June now think the prospect of eventually tapping into Iraq's vast oil reserves outweighs the risks." Away from the big dollar figures tossed around -- 'oh, so impressive' -- what's it like? Owen Fay (Al Jazeera) investigates (link is video, transcript to video follows):
Owen Fay: Children play on a street filled with sewage, live in homes surrounded by rubbish and grow up in villages displaying all of the signs of abject poverty. This is southern Iraq, just outside Basra and, by any measure, one of the wealthiest pieces of land on earth. Iraq has the world's third largest reserves of oil and the bulk of it is located right here. The government in Baghdad is in the middle of signing a series of deals with major oil companies from around the world worth billions and billions of dollars but people here have seen none of it.
Female Resident of Basra: We have not benefited from anything, we have nothing to show for it at all.
Own Fay: Instead, what they do have is widespread unemployment, intermittent electricity and wells filled with septic water.
Male Resident of Basra: Is this Iraq? This is an oil rich country? It is true that there is security now and that's much improved. Security is there but what's the use of that? It is true this is an oil country but as you can see can anyone live in this sewage water?
Owen Fay: Local government officials are circumspect about the major new deals being announced in Baghdad. They say they're not opposed to the oil companies coming here but they do have conditions.
Jabaar Amin (Head of Basra Provincial Council): If the contracts are beneficial to Iraq, we welcome them. If they subjugate us and take Iraq's oil wealth, we do not.
Owen Fay: Another set of oil auctions is due to take place next month. Big names like Exxon will get a chance to invest billions and right now assurances are being made that one of the conditions for any successful bid will be local and regional investment.
Shiltag Aboud (Governor of Basra): These companies will not only be contributing to the oil sector but will contribute to the economic, cultural and environmental situation in Basra too. They're not just going to be based at the fields far from everyday life. The impact on the city will be felt.
Owen Fay: If that does happen, it will be warmly welcomed but people here say they'll believe it when they see it. For now, they're deeply skeptical because as they look around what they see are international companies far more interested in what lies beneath this land than in the people who have to live on it. Owen Fay, Al Jazeera.
Friday's snapshot noted Nouri's latest attack on the press: "On the latter, Azzaman reports he has 'banned movement by press vehicles with equipment to broadcast live. [. . . ] The order has been issued by the military command of Baghdad operations which specificially denies television broadcasters the right of live coverage'." And it never ends. Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports today that there are "journalists cliaming to have been beaten by security forces and ministers issuing warnings about media coverage" while Farqu Abd al-Qadir, the Communications Minister, is insisting that all broadcast media apply for a $5,000 permit: "Observers say the move appears to have been prompted by official anger at recent coverage of a string of devastating bomb attacks on government ministries, which caused about 250 deaths and seriously eroded the government's security credentials." And the coverage may have hurt installed thug Nouri al-Maliki's chances at re-election. Meanwhile journalist Mohammed Jabar explains he was attempting to report on a bombing but instead was attacked by Iraqi forces who "attacked me with the butts of their rifles. They saw I had all the right badges and knew I was entitled to be there. They beat me till I was unconscious. I am sure they didn't behave like this on their own. It's obvious they have orders to block any coverage of explosions."
Turning to some of today's violence which did get coverage . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded two people and another one which wounded three people, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and wounded three more, a Ramadi sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer ("in the investigations department") and was followed by a second bombing which claimed 2 lives and wounded seven people, and a Kirkuk "assassination attempt" by roadside bombing on Brig Gen Adnan Khairu.
Reuters notes US and Kurdish forces killed 1 'suspect' and "freed three child hostages".
Today the Oversight and Ivenstigations Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled Iraq and Afghanistan: Perspectives on US Strategy, Part II. It certainly lived up to Part I and, no, that wasn't a good thing. That October 22nd hearing was covered in the October 23rd snapshot and, as we asked then, "Where the hell was Iraq?"
Let's go with a big moment which raised no eyebrows. This is US House Rep Duncan Hunter (elected for the first time last year, fills his father's seat) opening remarks. He supports sending more troops to Afghanistan, just FYI.
Duncan Hunter: We're not at the ground floor of this debate anymore. We'we're kind of talking like we are. And my question, one is, we're over there, we're committed, we're on the 50th floor, so what now? And I don't think that our commanders over there are ignorant of anything you are saying. I think they all -- they all -- Do you think they're ignorant of this? I think that they have heard probably every point of view and-and the State Department involved -- I was stationed in Afghanistan for my third deployment in 2007. I just went back this last weekend, it was fun. The State Department involvement and the civilian and Smart Person involvement now with the military in Afghanistan is unprecedented. Never happened before. It's quintupled since July -- the State Department, US AID personnel. And there's a two-star civilian for every two-star military person there, there's a whole chain of command for the civilian side along with the military side, everybody's confident, they're asking for a troop surge, I mean that's what everybody's asking for. But my question is: So what now then? I mean they -- there's -- we're talking a lot, we're at the 50th floor, not the ground floor anymore. We're over there. We're committed. Dr. Khan might have us pull out but not on the basis that we can't win, on the basis that you don't think we'll stay
Muqtedar Khan: Yes.
Duncan Hunter: Right?
Muqtedar Khan: Yes, exactly.
Duncan Hunter: Okay. So what now. That's-that's all I got. And that's the big . . . What do you recommend if we do want it stable and we do want it so that we can leave in the next two to five years, leave it relatively stable, not abandon it totally and we'll probably leave troops there like we will in Iraq. But so what now?
Excuse me, "and we'll probably leave troops there like we will in Iraq"? I don't disgree with Hunter but there has been a big effort to deny that was planned. That statement should get attention but don't wait for the press to pick it up. The same press that sold you the illegal war on Iraq really isn't interested in that war ever ending -- as long as they don't have to cover it, they're hap-hap-happy.
There's another obvious moment that should be addressed. It's not Iraq related and Kat's grabbing it for her site and will write about it tonight. So let's move over to US House Rep Mike Coffman and whether he was attempting to spit on Jonathon M. Sylvestre's memory or if he was just damn stupid? We'll go with bulb nose being damn stupid -- and possibly the WC Fields like nose was a tip off? Two days ago, DoD announced: "Spc. Jonathon M. Sylvestre, 21, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Nov. 2 in Kut, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga." Does he not matter to Coffman?
Because Coffman supports the continued war on Iraq? No, Coffman probably still supports that continued war, he supported it back when he could actually remember a war was going on there. But Coffman's lost interest in Iraq long, long ago. And it was disgusting to watch him do an exchange where he cited 'recent' deaths in Afghanistan from his home state and he didn't have a damn thing to say about Jonathon M. Sylvestre who, for the record, is Colorado's most recent service member to die in Iraq or Afghanistan. But Coffman wasn't interested in that. It should be noted US House Rep Susan Davis wasn't interested in Iraq either and our state, California, saw two deaths announced this week in Iraq; Lukas C. Hopper of Merced and Christopher M. Cooper of Oceanside.
The subcomittee heard from retired Maj Gen Paul Eaton, Professor Christine Fair (Georgetown), Professor Muqtedar Khan (University of Delaware) and Marin Strmecki (Smith Richardson Foundation). Eaton and Strmecki were aware of the Iraq War as evidenced by their opening remarks. In his opening remarks, Eaton noted speaking to US President Barack Obama over a year ago, being asked what the army wanted and replying, "Senator, we want your Secretary of Agriculture to be at least as interested in the outcome in Afghanistan and Iraq as is your Secretary of Defense." Does anyone get the idea that this interest is present in the Secretary of Agriculture? That's Tom Vilsack. And, just for example, click on this page (US Agricultural website) and note just what's been 'done' (covered) in 2009 compared to 2008. See an increase? No. And click here for archives and you'll see more efforts noted in every year of the Iraq War except 2004 and 2005. So where's the increase?
Wait, you're saying, Barack had all those problems getting qualified people (and a few tax cheats) confirmed, right?
Wrong. Not with Vilsack. He was nominated December 17, 2008 and he was confirmed by the US Senate January 20th -- the day Barack was sworn in as president. Vilsack did his swearing in January 21st. So let's not pretend like Vilsack showed up late. He was there from the first day of this administration.
Now Eaton told that story in his opening remarks. At any point did any member of the Subcommittee ever ask him, "Do you think what you asked for happened or is happening?" No. And no one ever explored it. Remember, it was about Iraq and the hearing, though including Iraq in the title, really wasn't interested in Iraq. Congress can vote, in 2002, some form of authorization or approval for an impending Iraq War they just don't seem able to focus on it while it continues. That seems to be the tricky part and may be why they've become so lousy about providing oversight on it?
(Or for that matter, pulling the plug on it.)
If there's an exception to that it's been the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Tomorrow there will be another hearing held by them, this one looking into the burn pits:
Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announced Wednesday the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) will conduct a congressional oversight hearing on Friday, November 6, to examine the health risks associated with the continued use of open-air burn pits by the U.S. military and contractor KBR in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The hearing is set for 10:00 AM and will be held in Room 628 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.
Although military guidelines allow the use of burn pits to dispose of waste only in emergency situations, most large U.S. military installations have continued to use burn pits for years, despite growing evidence that exposure to burn pit smoke may be causing an increased incidence of chronic lung diseases, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and cancer.
Hearing witnesses are expected to testify that plastics, paints, solvents, petroleum products, rubber, and medical waste have been burned in the pits.
The hearing will also examine whether military contractor KBR operated the burn pits in a safe and cost-effective manner.
Witnesses will include the Air Force's former Bioenvironemental Flight Commander at Joint Base Balad, who warned three years ago about health hazards associated with burn pit smoke at the base, two KBR whisteblowers, and a medical expert who will describe the adverse health consequences associated with burn pit smoke inhalation.
WHO: Senators: Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman, and others
Witnesses: Lt. Colonel Darrin Curtis, former Air Force Bioenvironmental Flight Commander at Joint Base Balad; Rick Lamberth, former KBR employee; Russell Keith, former KBR medic; Dr. Anthony Szema, MD, expert on health impact of burn pit smoke.
WHAT: Congressional oversight hearing.
WHERE: Room 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building
WHEN: 10:00 AM, Friday, November 6, 2009
WHY: To examine the health impact of burn pit smoke on U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether the Army is providing exposed soldiers and veterans with accurate information about the risks, and whether contractor KBR is safely operating burn pits.
We'll try to cover that hearing in tomorrow's snapshot (but we're juggling our schedule because we only just learned of it). In other oversight news, Josh Rogin's "Exclusive: Did the U.S. government buy favorable coverage of Iraq's Anbar Province?" (Foreign Policy) reminds that a lot of money has gone into the sinkhole that is the illegal war and for a lot of questionable activities:
U.S. taxpayer money that was supposed to be used for emergency purposes in Iraq was spent to buy a special advertising issue for an Anbar businessman in a British trade magazine, a U.S. government investigation has found.
FDI magazine, a bimonthly print publication and website owned by the Financial Times, nearly simultaneously showered Anbar Governor Qasim Abid Muhammad Hammadi Al Fahadawi with positive coverage, praising the dangerous Anbar province as "a hot place to invest in" and giving the businessman an award as "Global Personality of the Year for 2009."
FDI's award was announced three days before the "Special Report" on Anbar, entitled, "Bridge to the Future," was published on its website. The award was immediately praised by the U.S. military in Iraq, without mention of the U.S. funds spent on the supplement, and the website makes no mention of it having been paid for by the American government. Then again last month, FDI magazine Editor Courtney Fingar handed the governor another award naming Anbar province one of FDI magazine's "standout regions of the year."
Reached by The Cable, Fingar confirmed the U.S. government had spent "in the neighborhood of $50,000" on the special supplement but denied her magazine's content had been bought and paid for, calling the report on Anbar "balanced and accurate."
The investigation was disclosed in the October quarterly report of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), which is tasked with monitoring U.S. expenditures and projects in Iraq, but has so far not been publicly reported. Sources told The Cable that after the report is submitted to Congress, it's up to that body to determine if the payment violated funding rules or the law.
It could playfully be argued that by performing this concert Joni Mitchell was the attending mid wife at the birth of Greenpeace. It is a fact, however, that the music on this CD has been donated and approved by the artists and their publishers for a limited period with all proceeds from sales going to Greenpeace in support of our work.
What is that? Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and James Taylor did a 1970 concert to benefit Greenpeace. Starting November 10th, the concert is out on CD for a limited time. Click here for more information. Joni Mitchell is, of course, a legendary, one of kind songwriter and artist. The late Phil Ochs left his mark with "I Ain't Marching Anymore," "Changes" and many others and James Taylor is the name of a man who was once married to the legendary artist Carly Simon and whose intense vanity was documented by both Joni and Carly ("watching your hairline recede my vain darling," as Joni put it in "Just Like This Train"). On the live album, Joni's songs include "For Free," "Woodstock," "Big Yellow Taxi," "My Old Man," "Cactus Tree," "The Gallery," "The Circle Game" and "A Case Of You." Phil Ochs contributions to the live album include "Changes," "Chords of Fame," "I'm Gonna Say It Now," "The Bells" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore." Not having yet begun doing vanilla covers of R&B classics, James offers "Fire and Rain," "Sweet Baby James" and a few other songs he wrote (James last recorded a batch of new songs he'd written on 2002's October Road). Carly Simon's latest album is a reimagining of some of her classics as well as two new songs and is entitled Never Been Gone (an amazing album, Kat praised it here). Yesterday, Carly was a guest on NPR's Soundcheck.
Finally, with Aimee Allison (co-host of KPFA's The Morning Show), David Solnit authored the must read Army Of None. David Solnit has now teamed up with his sister Rebecca Solnit, of Courage to Resist, for a new book and there's a new action.
Two things I'd like to tell you about:
ACTION: A Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on the ten year anniversary of Seattle WTO shutdown, Nov 30, 2009. Yesterday African delegates walked out of pre-Copenhagen trade talks in Barcelona demanding the US and rich countries commit themselves to deeper and faster greenhouse gas emission cuts and European activists blockaded the talks. The key fight over the future of the planet is taking place right now around climate; corporate market solutions are the new WTO and the US and the rich countries are undermining any efforts at climate solutions to avert even more catastrophic impacts. What could shift things right now is people in the US (doing what we did ten years ago) showing mass resistance to the US government and corporate capitalism's obstruction and false solutions. Please join one of the regional actions being planned in SF and around the US (details here soon) and sign up to take or support direct action and get your folks together now!
BOOK: AK Press asked me to make a book reflecting on the Seattle WTO shutdown from an organizers view. With my sister Rebecca Solnit, Kate and the AK Press collective workers, designer Jason Justice and contributions from fellow organizers we did it just in time for the ten year anniversary. Please support by buying a book , get ten at half-off, and pass on the announcement below.
hope and resistance, David Solnit
About the book:
From dawn to dusk on November 30, 1999, tens of thousands of people shut down the World Trade Organization meeting, facing cops firing tear gas and rubber bullets, the National Guard, and the suspension of civil liberties. An unexpected history was launched from the streets of Seattle, one in which popular power would matter as much as corporate power, in which economics assumed center-stage, and people began envisioning who else they could be and what else their economies and societies might look like.The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle explores how that history itself has become a battleground and how our perception of it shapes today's movements against corporate capitalism and for a better world. David Solnit recounts activist efforts to intervene in the Hollywood star-studded movie, Battle in Seattle, and pulls lessons from a decade ago for today. Rebecca Solnit writes of challenging mainstream misrepresentation of the Seattle protests and reflects on official history and popular power. Core organizer Chris Dixon tells the real story of what happened during those five days in the streets of Seattle.
Profusely illustrated, with a reprint of the original 1999 Direct Action Network's "Call to Action" broadsheet-- including key articles by Stephanie Guilloud, Chris Borte, and Chris Dixon -- and a powerful introduction from Anuradha Mittal, The Battle of the Story of the Battle of Seattle is a tribute to the scores of activists struggling for a better world around the globe. It's also a highly-charged attack on media mythmaking in all its forms, from Rebecca Solnit's battle with the New York Times to David Solnit's intervention in the Battle in Seattle film, and beyond. Every essay in this book sets the record straight about what really happened in Seattle, and more importantly why it happened. This is the real story.
For more on the book, including ordering it, click here and last night Ann noted the book and the importance of the issues the book is covering.