Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, October 17, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the 'intended' elections get more iffy, the US Justice Dept files charges against a contractor, CNN begins airing a four-part investigation into US abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and more.
Starting with the 'intended' elections in January.  There was already objection to the law [yesterday's snapshot: " Waleed Ibrahim, Michael Christie and Micheal Roddy (Reuters) reports Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, has stated the law needs to be changed to allow external Iraqi refugees to participate and to be represented. If the law is not changed (by Tuesday afternoon), he states he will veto it. (The Presidency Council is made up of Iraq's President and two vice presidents. After Parliament passes a law, it goes to the council which decides whether to implement it or not.)"]. Today that's even more the case.  RTT News reports that the KRG has "decided . . . to boycott the country's January national elections, protesting disparity in allocation fo parliamentary seats for the provinces."  Jomana Karadsheh and Yousif Bassil (CNN) report that this is a threat at present, but one which is "casting further shadows over a vote" and note that the issue has to do with the perecentage of seats in the Parliament allocated currently for Kurds.  Tariq al-Hashimi is also concerned with the allocation and the two reporters note, "He said the country's constitution stipulates that there should be one seat in the parliamentary Council of Representatives for every 100,000 Iraqis, but, he said, this does not take refugees -- or minorities including Christians into account."  Equally true is that this 'development' is neither new nor unrelated.
Have we all forgotten November 2004?  The lead up to the 2005 vote?  What were some of the last minute objections?  In that case, they were resolved in time for the vote.  That may or may not be the case here.  But this issue of the number of seats and representation popped up in 2004.  That was when exiles, refugees and other groupings (such as "expatriates") suddenly became an issue and the US and the United Nations had to change their positions.  The UN and the US had stated that no one not in Iraq would be voting.  They had to change their stance (begrudingly) and the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq set up polling places in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, the UK, the US, etc.  Whty did that take place then?
The easiest reason is that the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for it to.  The reality was that, at that time, the bulk of Iraqis outside of Iraq were considered to be Shi'ites so it was thought that allowing voting to take place outside of Iraq's borders would benefit Shi'ites. (al-Sistani is a Shi'ite.)  Little has ever been done, since the vote, on the press' part to determine whether that hypothesis was accurate or not. 
After Shi'ites, the group then expected to benefit the most was the Kurds.  So today's issues are not really all that 'new' but traceable back to 2004.  The real changes are (a) that the persecuted who became refugees since 2004 have been Sunnis and (b) the number of seats.  (Thank you to three Western correspondents in Iraq for walking me through the seats issue over the phone.) To dilute non-Shi'ite populations, the Shi'ite dominated Parliament is attempting to expand the number of seats in Parliament from 275 to 323.  The press hasn't really gone into that and you have to wonder why not until you grasp that the US Embassy is air brushing in their statements to the press.  The additional seats will go across Iraq; however, the Shi'ite majority provinces are the ones getting the most seats.  That flies in the face of all logic and there's no way that anyone studing just the internal migration within Iraq -- forget the external -- would buy the percentage growth that the 'government' in Baghdad is attempting to claim.  For example, northern Iraq is where a large number of Iraq's internal refugees have fled.  And yet this northern region, the Kurdistan Regional Government, is seeing only 3 additional seats (3 out of the 48 that would be added)?  That makes no sense at all to anyone who's followed the migration patterns within Iraq.
The allocation of the new seats becomes even more problematic when reviewing the press release the Kurdistan Regional Government issued today:

Dr Fuad Hussein, the Kurdistan Region Presidency's Chief of Staff, said that President Masoud Barzani has been closely following the mechanism recently put in place to allocate parliamentary seats to each Iraqi governorate for elections.       
He said that President Barzani believes that it is not possible to accept such a seat-allocation based on the food-rationing registry of the Iraqi Trade Ministry, because the mechanism is illogical, contradicts the reality on the ground and is a distortion of facts.   
Dr Hussein stated that the Kurdistan Region Presidency views this as an attempt to reduce the number of Kurdistan Region representatives in the next Iraqi parliament and diminish their achievements.    
He added that President Barzani is absolutely clear, that unless this seat allocation formula is reconsidered in a just manner, the people of Kurdistan Region will be compelled to boycott the election.  
As this is an historic moment in the history of Iraq, he also called on all political parties to shoulder their responsibility to promote democracy. He urges them to refrain from supporting a deceptive mechanism that obviously targets the Kurdistan Region, and which undermines the democratic achievements made so far.
The food-rationing registry?  At this point, if you listen closely, you'll hear laughter.
The food-rations was a program (a needed one then and now) under Saddam Hussein that provided staples to Iraqis. The Kurdish north has never utilized it to the degree other areas of Iraq have.  Why is that?  Well, for starters, it was always a wealthier region than most parts of Iraq.  Since the invasion, under US 'assistance,' the rations have been cut repeatedly to the point that they're nearly 60% less than they were under Saddam. 
Now in 2004, the food registry was used (the cuts to the program hadn't been started yet -- despite efforts by Paul Bremer).  And it was used with apology and, goodness, oh how, oh how will we ever do a census in time for an election, we have to use this! 
The 2005 Constitution mandated a census.  It has still not been done.  So in 2009, it's pretty pathetic and a sign of how little 'progress' has been made in Iraq that they still haven't done a census.
Now the ration cards are impossible for refugees (for reasons we've outlined many times) and, for many, they're still listed in their old neighborhoods -- the ones they left.  Which means a number of areas are being "padded."  Not only that, what's not being told is that the registery got padded itself in the lead up to the 2009 provincial elections in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.  This is an important point and since the press did such a lousy job in January covering those elections -- many news consumers WRONGLY believe that was elections across the country, it wasn't -- they'll probably continue to get it wrong.  But [PDF format warning] you can review this United Nations document and you will see that the 'database' for the 14 provinces got padded.  How?  "Approximately 2.9 million Iraqis turned out for the voter registration update."  This is, no doubt, part of that claim of population surge.  But nothing equivalent took part in the four other provinces -- the ones not voting in January.  Those were Kirkuk and the three provinces making up the Kurdistan Regional Government.
There is no national census.  There is an effort by the Shi'ite dominated government to further increase their gains by expanding the number of seats in the Parliament and to do so by using the regsitry that was already laughable before the 2009 elections but that is completely unfair to the northern region which didn't do an 'update' to it.  Before any vote takes place, the issue of the additonal seats should be resolved and the smartest thing to do would be to eliminate that, to add no new seats.  But if they're going to try to push that through, they better be prepared to back up this alleged population growth.  Without a national census, no respectable news outlet should accept any claims but do we have any respectable news outlets working in Iraq? (I'm referring to Western media.)  If we did, maybe they'd be attempting to explain what's actually taking place instead of allowing spin from the US Embassy and their own desire to 'close the chapter' on Iraq to drive their 'reporting.'  They might also note that a minister over the food ration program was among the ministers to have corruption charges filed against them.  And this is the voter roll?  Really?  (That was Abdel Falah al-Sudani -- who resigned in disgrace in May of 2009.  He was and remains a member of al-Maliki's Dawa Party.)  Those who remember the problems with the 14 provinces voting in January may also remember the complaints that people had to go to one polling station only to be told go here, go there.  This does not in any way indicate that the ration rolls are accurate. 
In addition, the new seats and where they are going need to factored into Nouri's continued assault on minority rights.  Not only has he and his spokesperson repeatedly stated that guaranteeing minority representation was bad for the government in recent months, the January 2009 elections saw minorities awarded less representation due to a law change that 'no one' had 'noticed' until it was too late.  This is not a minor issue and it's really telling that the expansion of the Parliament didn't raise concerns from election watchers.  One group that has voiced objection to the election law (and been ignored) is Iraq's Communist Party:
"The Parliament, in the first article of the law, cut down the number of compensatory seats, originally allocated to the lists that do not meet the electoral threshold at the provincial level but achieve it at the national level, from 45 in the original law to about 15 seats! And when we know that part of these seats will be allocated to quotas for some of the ethnic and religious minorities (8 seats), and for the deputies who would be elected by Iraqis living abroad who constitute more than 10 percent of Iraq's population, we can see how this reduction is arbitrary and irresponsible. The seven or eight remaining seats will not be enough to cover even the votes abroad."          
"On the other hand, this reduction (of the number of compensatory seats) effectively usurps the right of the lists that achieve the national electoral threshold to gain representation in Parliament. This reveals the selfishness of most of the dominant blocs and their disregard of plurality and diversity in the Parliament, their quest to extend full control over Parliament and the whole of political power, monopolizing and carving it up among themselves, in contravention of democratic norms."            
"In Article 3 of the law, the big parliamentary blocs went much further in violating democracy and displaying blatant disregard for the voters. They have imposed, once again, giving the vacant seats to the top winning lists, rather than putting them - as obligated by democracy, logic and justice - at the disposal of the lists that attain the highest remaining votes. They have thus opened the door again to a repetition of the infamous experience in the provincial elections earlier this year, when the big blocs stole the votes of more than two and a quarter million people who had given their votes to other lists. This was used by those big blocs to grab additional seats in the provincial councils."

Today BBC News reports the UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Ad Melkert, is dubbing efforts to ensure a free and fair election which will stand up to world scrutiny a "Herculean task." He stated that to the United Nations' Security Council where he put his concerns for emphasis on the time issue.  Xinhua quotes him stating, "Success is far from guaranteed as inside and outside forces continue their efforts to impose an agenda of division and destruction."
Meanwhile Iraq plans to hold another oil bidding next month; however, they still haven't finalized the contracts from last month.  Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) reports that the "two major oil deals" were not approved today due to the fact that 11 ministers did not attend today's cabinet meeting due to being out of town. October 13rh, Italian oil company Eni bragged of being "awarded the license for the development of the Zubair giant field in Iraq, following a successful first round bid."  Suadad al-Salhy, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Christie and Keiron Henderson (Reuters) remind the approval of the Eni deal and a deal with a conglomerate including Exxon and Sehll were supposed to have been approved last Tuesday but that was kicked back to this Tuesday and it's still not happening.
One thing that never gets postponed is the daily violence . . .
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad stationary store bombing which wounded four people, a Kirkuk sticky bombing which wounded two police officers. Reuters notes a Falluja roadside bombing which left one police officer injured, a Falluja home bombing which left three members of a family injured and a Kirkuk liquor store bombing which injured two people.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attempted assassination of Judge Abdul Kareem Mohamed in Nineveh Province today in which his driver was wounded. Reuters notes a Mosul attack in which a 1 man in a car was shot dead and his son was left injured.
Mohammed al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Kirkuk.  AFP reports 1 corpse was discovered yesterday in Baghdad.  The corpse was that of a child who'd been kidnapped and killed by Baghdad Police Lt Haidar Atlas.
Over a million Iraqis have died since the start of the illegal war.  One is Baha Mosua whose 'crime' was going to work.  The 26-year-old was arrested in a dragnet at the hotel -- arrested by British forces and he went on to die in their custody. As Adrian Shaw (Daily Mirror) reminds, Baha died of 93 injuries -- all while in British custody.  The ongoing inquiry into Baha Mosua's death is taking place in England.  Yesterday's testimony by War Criminal Donald Payne got some press attention. Press TV notes that Payne "accused his superiors of routinely abusing and threatening civilian detainees in Iraq."  Thomas Harding (Telegraph of London) adds:

He also alleged that a platoon commander, Lt Craig Rodgers placed a petrol can in front of a young prisoner's hooded face then poured water over him and lit a match simulating a threat to his life.
Minutes before he arrived to give evidence before the inquiry in London into the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi who died in British custody in Basra in 2003, Payne issued a short statement in which he accepted the disclosures would "harm the reputation of the both my former regiment and the British Army".
Changing the evidence he had given to previous investigations, Payne said he saw every member of a unit commanded by Lt Rodgers "forcefully kick or punch" the group of Iraqi prisoners that included Mr Mousa.
Payne claims that he previously covered up the extent of the abuse of Iraqis by British soldiers out of "misguided loyalty".

Yes, he did make that claim in his prepared statement as well as in his testimony. He also made another claim. As noted in yesterday's snapshot:

Gerald Elias: Can you help about this, Mr Payne: why were you lying about orders that you had received?

Donald Payne: Self-preservation.
During the hearing, a video was shown. Payne was in the video. He was abusing and cursing the Iraqi detainees.             
His verbal abuse included racist remarks. He was asked about prior experience in the military and whether he used racist language when dealing with people or prisoners in those countries? Payne replied that it was only in Iraq. Was he telling the truth? He might have been telling the truth. I have no idea. He has repeatedly lied to investigators. He admitted as much in his testimony today -- which was basically, 'I lied every other time but, this time, I'm telling the truth!'                            
Along with claiming that he didn't use racist remarks anywhere else he was stationed, he also claimed not to know the video was being filmed.                   
Gerald Elias pointed out that the video was clearly taken by a video camera and not by a cell phone. Payne replied that he didn't notice it. Elias then noted the spot in the video where Payne is clearly looking at the camera.                    
He continued to deny that he knew the filming was taking place or had taken place immediately after and that he had no idea who was doing the filming.

Sidebar, last Wednesday's snapshot covered the US Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee's Housing, Transportation and Community Development's Subcommitte on homeless veterans. Kat covered that Wednesday night and I haven't had time to note that until now.  Back to the inquiry, Simon Basketter (UK Socialist Worker) reports:
His revelations expose a widespread pattern of abuse that extends well beyond Baha.
Payne said that his former commanding officer (CO) held a gun to a prisoner's head and threatened "to blow his face off".                        
The inquiry also heard that prisoners were scalded with boiling water, urinated on, kicked, punched, hooded, sleep deprived and made to stand in stress positions.           
Payne said the soldiers in his unit enjoyed an "open season" of punching and kicking Baha and other prisoners.             
He described how he was travelling in a patrol with his CO Colonel Mendonca when someone shot a flare into the air.                    
An Iraqi was arrested and Mendonca interrogated him.               
Payne said, "The CO then cocked his pistol and said he was going to blow his face off. He was holding the pistol above the man's mouth. . . we left him there on the floor and drove off."

Robert Verkaik (Independent of London) observes, "The new allegations raise concerns about widespread abuse of dozens of Iraqi detainees and come days after the Ministry of Defence said it was investigating 33 other separate cases of torture carried out by British soldiers in Iraq and revealed in The Independent on Saturday."  33 cases?  Last night, Stan noted, "UPI reports today that there's talk this could be "a second Abu Ghraib" -- the infamous prison the US ran in Iraq in which Iraqi prisoners were repeatedly tortured and abused. So keep your eyes peeled for developments on that."  The allegations emerged late Friday night.   BBC News reported that Phil Shiner, an attorney for some Iraqis, is calling for an inquiry into abuse allegations which include British soldiers raping "a 16-year-old boy". Robert Verkaik (Independent of London) explained, "Claims that British soldiers recreated the torture conditions of Abu Ghraib to commit the sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi civilians are being investigated by the Ministry of Defence. The fresh allegations raise important questions about collusion between Britain and America over the ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners during the insurgency." BBC News (link has text and video) noted that the UK Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell is insisting that there's no need for a public inquiry and claiming that any investigation can be handled (privately) by the Ministry of Defence. (Mike and Kat noted the story Friday night.)

Meanwhile, in the US, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 begins a four-part series (Anderson's show airs at 10:00 pm EST) into the way Iraqis were treated in US custody:
U.S. soldiers interrogated by the Army in the 2007 murders of four Iraqi detainees blamed a military policy they said made it too hard to detain suspected insurgents, a CNN investigation has found.
Soldiers questioned in the killings said the sergeant in command of their detachment ordered the suspected insurgents killed because Army rules made it too difficult to hold them.
"They're gonna be right back on the streets," one soldier put it.
CNN obtained an extraordinary 23½ hours of Army interrogation videotapes that detail the March 2007 executions of the prisoners by three sergeants who were attached to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.
The tapes, to be shown on CNN's "AC360," show one of the sergeants confessing to the crime, as well as agents from the Army's Criminal Investigations Division telling soldiers involved in the crime that the military's reputation was at stake.
On one tape, an Army interrogator compares the potential fallout from the slayings to the scandal over the treatment of inmates at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, telling a soldier, "This is gonna be ugly, 'cause it is."
In other news, yesterday the  US Justice Dept issued this press release:
The United States has joined a whistleblower suit against Public Warehousing Company (PWC), The Sultan Center Food Products Company (TSC), and PWC's chief executive officer, Tarek Abbul Aziz Sultan Al-Essa, the Justice Department announced today.               

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleges that since 2003, defendants have violated the False Claims Act by presenting or causing others to present false claims for payment under PWC's multi-billion contracts with the Defense Logistics Agency to supply food for U.S. service members serving in Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan. The complaint alleges that defendants knowingly overcharged the United States for locally available fresh fruits and vegetables that PWC purchased through TSC. The complaint also alleges that PWC failed to disclose and pass through rebates and discounts it obtained from its U.S.-based suppliers, as required by its contracts.            

The case was initially filed under seal by Kamal Mustafa Al-Sultan, the owner of a Kuwaiti company that originally partnered with PWC to submit a proposal on the food supply contracts. The case remained under seal to permit the United States to investigate the allegations and determine whether it would join the lawsuit. Under the False Claims Act, the United States may recover three times the amount of its losses, plus civil penalties.                 

"We will not tolerate fraudulent practices from those tasked with providing the highest quality support to the men and women who serve in our armed forces," said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. "Those who do business with the government must act fairly and in accordance with the law. As this case illustrates, the Department of Justice will investigate and pursue allegations of fraud against contractors and subcontractors, whether they are foreign or domestic."                        

"The decision to join in this civil lawsuit follows a multi-year probe into abuses in Middle East subsistence prime vendor contracts," said Acting U.S. Attorney F. Gentry Shelnutt. "This Office and the Department of Justice will spare no effort in investigating those persons and companies, regardless of location, who seek to defraud the United States."                                        

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia also announced today that a grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Public Warehousing Company, also known as Agility, in connection with its prime vendor contracts.                                        

Assistant Attorney General West and Acting U.S. Attorney Shelnutt thanked the joint investigation team, which includes Special Agents with Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (Army CID), auditors from the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and the Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, for the investigation of this defense procurement fraud matter.                   
Walter Pincus (Washington Post) explains, "Under the False Claims Act, the government may recover three times the amount of its losses plus civil penalties, according to the Justice Department announcement." Finally, NOW on PBS debuts its latest episode Friday on most PBS stations and this one iexamines:
The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five American soldiers are
coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, many of which
require round-the-clock attention. But lost in the reports of these
returning soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice
everything to care for them. On Friday, November 20 at 8:30 pm (check
local listings), NOW reveals how little has been done to help these
family caregivers, and reports on dedicated efforts to support them.