Tuesday, December 8, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Baghdad adds "Bloody Tuesday" to its "Bloody Sunday" and "Bloody Wednesday" as multiple bombings rock the city and lead to over 120 dead, the Iraq Inquiry continues with some contradicatory testimonies, Tony Blair loves HBO's Taxi Cab Confessions, Iraq's got an election date and the butterscotch floats from the sun on gentle rays of . . . oh, they've changed the date already -- again! -- and more.
Last night Betty was confronting the latest wave of Operation Happy Talk the press has been pimping, noting how little attention Monday's school bombing in Baghdad was receiving, "But if you've followed the waves of it, you know that the children (dead and wounded) won't get much attention at all due to the fact that this is what happens in the aftermath of a wave. The reporters look the other way. Over and over. Until forced to admit reality. And they're always loathe to admit reality." Until they're forced to. Which would be today. Martin Chulov (Guardian) reports multiple bombings in Baghdad today which "have again exposed how vulnerable Iraqi institutions re to targeted bombings". Based on police sources, Al Jazeera put the death toll at 112 with 200 more people left injured. Their correspondent Zeina Khodr states:
We just spoke to a high raking official who said he was worried that the security forces were infiltrated. This is a blow to the security forces and prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is running for re-election on a platform that he has improved security across the country. Attacks have become part of daily life, not only in Baghdad, but across the country. Security is not only fragile, it is deteriorating.
The Telegraph of London (link has text and video) offers, "Some police sources said there had been five explosions, two near judicial buildings, one near a university, another near in a central Baghdad commercial district and the earlier one in the south. Smoke billowed from at least two sites." Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora (New York Times) count 121 dead and also go with five explosions, three of which they state were suicide bombings. Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) states the targets included the Ministry of the Interior, "a court building and the temporary home of the finance ministry". The Washington Post offers a photo essay here. Jamal Hashim and Ghassan Awad (Xinhua) reconstruct the bombings stating the first one was aimed at the Finance Ministry and was a car bombing, followed by a car bombing targeting the Interior Ministry, then another car bombing targeting the court house, a mini-bus bombing then exploded "near the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs" (the fifth bombing, according to the reporters, took place at a police checkpoint and was a suicide bomber). Chip Cummins (Wall St. Journal) observes, "The intensity of the blasts and their quick succession -- some spaced just minutes apart -- suggested a coordinated bombing campaign." Oliver August (Times of London) explains the cars didn't all just show and wait to explode: "A blue van charged through a checkpoint in western Baghdad just after 10am, ran over a security guard while his colleague fired at the windscreen, and raced through an alley of concrete blast walls. It then ploughed through a second barrier, crashing into the parking lot of the al-Karkh courthouse and exploding on impact." Natalia Antelava (BBC News -- link has text and video) emphasizes, "All five explosions targeted symbols of this state. Not only ministries but also a university and Baghdad's Institute of Fine Arts."
Ammar Karim and Prashant Rao (AFP) describe the scene, "Mangled wrecks of cars, some of which had been flipped over, lined the street opposite the courthouse, and several vehicles in the parking lot were crushed by collpased blast walls." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) captures the trauma and quotes a Ministry of Defense employee begging for help, "My son is at school. I don't know if he's dead or alive." At Global Post, Arraf explains, "Iraqi civil defense workers loaded body bags of at least 10 people killed in the blast into ambulances while rescue workers frantically turned over piles of bricks, flinging them aside with their bare hands looking for survivors. [. . .] A judge with building dust on his suit wandered through the rubble. On a nearby street, children evacuated from a school with its windows blown out waited in a minibus for someone in charge to take them home." Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) quote shopkeeper Abu Haidar stating, "I never felt so scared in my life. I lived through wars and served in the military, but today was so terrifying. Many people were killed and wounded. Men, women, police and children who sell things, all were killed and injured." Oliver August quotes worker Ahmed Jowad stating, "The glass and windows were blown in as we ducked under the tables because of the shooting but then were thrown across the room. We couldn't get out because there was a fire. Smoke and dust everywhere. Later I saw all the dead bodies in the yard, the young lawyers. I heard screaming and helped people crawl out of the building." Also commenting, Jane Arraf notes, is Paliament which "demanded that the prime minister and senior security officials come in to explain why security forces were unable to prevent the bombings." Marc Santora and Steven Lee Myers quote the spokesperson for Ayad Allawi stating, "The government always forms investigation committees after each explosion, but it comes up with nothing later." Nizar Latif (The National Newspaper) quotes the Parliament's head of the security commission, Hadi al Amri, stating, "We have already sent a formal message to Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki saying that the current security plan has failed. It is clear that we need a new security plan. There have been consistent warnings that government and civilian targets will be increasingly attacked in the run-up to the national elections, but insufficient action has been taken to stop those attacks." At the United Nations today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was asked his reaction to the bombings and he replied, "I am very shocked, and I condemn in the strongest terms possible, this just unnaceptable, horrendous terrorist bombings against civilians. This must be stopped, and my spokesperson will issue a formal statement on this." As was to be expected, Nouri's spokesperson addressed the press and blamed al Qaeda in Iraq and Ba'athists. The Daily Mirror notes, "Iraqi officials blamed the August and October attacks on al Qaida in Iraq and loyalists of the Baath Party -- even bringing out three suspects on national television who gave what officials termed confessions." Ron Jacobs (CounterPunch) observes:
Like most of the rest of the bombings in Iraq in 2009, the bombers remain a mystery, although the government has blamed Baathists for the October attacks and some US officials speculate whether or not some of the others should be attributed to their favorite bogeyman -- Al Qaida in Iraq. Unlike many of the attacks during the heat of the conflict in Iraq, many of these recent attacks are targeting heavily defended government agencies. If these attacks are the work of the Iraqi insurgency and one places these bombings in the frameowrk of the rest of the conflict in Iraq, they seem to symbolize a resurgence of the insurgency. If one further considers the nature of guerrilla war, these spectacular attacks represent a new phase in the insurgents war against the government.
Various reports note Bloody Wednesday (August) and Bloody Sunday (October) -- two Baghdad attacks resulting in huge deaths earlier this year. Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque) notes, "After you have taken a moment to mull this unspeakable rending of human lives -- not just the individuals who were killed but also the lifelong, lacerting grief of their survivors -- a rending which is a direct result of an American invasion and occupation that not only loosed a sevage sectarian war in the shattered conquered land but also actively abetted it at every turn, go back and read the last paragraph of that excerpt again. The worst attack in -- not years, not decades -- but mere weeks. In other wrods, it's hardly been a month since the last time, of many times, over and over, like clockwork, that dozens of people were ripped to shreds in the American-caused, American-abetted, American-supported civil wars in Iraq."
Meanwhile CNN quotes Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission's Faraj al-Haidari stating, "After intensive discussion with the presidential council we've all agreed on March 6, 2010 to be the new date for parliamentary elections." Marc Santora and Steven Lee Myers also report March 6th and credit it to the Presidency Council. So there you have it, parliamentary elections March 6th, Iraq's installed government has finally reached a conclusion and the matter is . . . What's that. Oh. Never mind. Not only does the date still have to be approved by the Presidency Council but it's already been changed. Suadad al-Salhy, Mohammed Abbas, Ayla Jean Yackley, Aseel Kami, Waleed Ibrahim, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Christie and Noah Barkin (Reuters) report it is not supposedly and/or allegedly set to take place March 7th after Kurds pointed out that March 6, 1975 was when Saddam Hussein signed a treaty with the Iranian government that "marginalised" the Kurds. So for now, let's just keep calling them 'intended' elections.
Turning to some of today's other reported violence . . .
Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left four people injured, an Anbar Province roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left the man's mother wounded and wounded two children and, dropping back to Monday, a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 Ministry of Interior employee and left a second man wounded.
Jenan Hussein (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead in Mosul.
Meanwhile in England, the Iraq Inquiry continues hearing public testimony. The Scottish National Party released the following:
As the Chilcot Inquiry entered its third week, more figures involved in the run up to the invasion discredit the Labour Government's case for invasion.
On Monday, the Inquiry heard first from Sir Suma Chakrabarti, then permanent secretary at the epartment for International Development, who said concerns about both the legality and the wider political legitimacy of the conflict were "inhibiting factors". He said that Ministerial secrecy had inhibited the UK's ability to plan for post-war reconstruction.
He was followed by Sir John Scarlett who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time of the invasion and went on to become chief of MI6 --despite controversy over his role in drawing up the notorious dossier on Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction.
Sir John has acknowledged Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell gave advice on the document's presentation. He confirmed to the Inquiry that Ministers had been alerted to the doubt over the functionality of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction days before the invasion.
His appearance before the Inquiry came as a Conservative MP alleged that the 45-minute claim came from "a cab driver on the Iraqi-Jordanian border".
Commenting, Mr [Angus] Robertson said:
"The contents and construction of Tony Blair's dodgy dossier are well known, and now Sir John Scarlett's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry adds to the damning dossier building up against those who took us to war.
"With each evidence session, the men who took us into the worst foreign policy disaster in modern times -- Tony Blair and Gordon Brown -- are implicated more and more.
"Instead of hearing from aides and advisors, it's time we heard from the men who sexed up the evidence and took us to war on a lie.
"This inquiry will be judged on the answers that it provides and the public deserve to hear the real story about a war fought in their name from the men who took us there."
Before we get to the Iraq Inquiry, they're referring to the charges that a senational claim (used to lie England into war) came from a cab driver. The BBC reports that British MP Adam Holloway is stating that the false claim that Saddam Hussein had the capability to launch a chemical attack on England "within 45 minutes came from a taxi driver in Iraq". Michael Evans (Times of London) explains: "Adam Holloway, a former army officer and Conservative MP for Gravesham, told The Times last night that he had been given information that the taxi driver's recollections of the conversation in the back of his taxi had helped to form part of the dossier. The controversial dossier was published in September 2002 and supported the Government's case for invading Iraq the following March." Matthew Moore (Telegraph of London) also stresses the dismissals, "Intelligence officers who looked into the missile claims decided the taxi driver's information was 'demonstrably untrue', as they made clear in the footnote of a report presented to Downing Street. However it appears that their scepticism was ignored, as the claim was included in the notorious briefing document on Iraq's weapons programmes released by Alistair Campbell, the press secretary of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an attempt to build support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003."
Today the Iraq Inquiry heard from five witnesses Suma Chakrabarti, Dominick Chilcott, John Scarlet, Brian Burridge and Robin Brims (link has video and transcript). Last Thursday, the Inquiry heard from Michael Boyce whose testimony included that he was prevented from buying needed equipment, that he stressed to the Blair government the importance of a strong legal foundation for the war and that the US did not appear to take qualifiers from the British seriously. John Chilcot is the chair of the inquiry. From today's hearing.
Chair John Chilcot: So here we are on the ground in Iraq. It is late May onwards. We have had heard from Lord Boyce sort of two rather almost contrary messages. One is that he told us the other day that he found DFID particularly uncooperative. On the other hand, he said that DFID had excellent operators on the ground, but they were told to sit in a tent and not do anything. It would be useful to have a perspective from yourself and DFID about those relationships and, indeed, does that engage the personalities involved between, for example, Clare Short and Lord Boyce?
Suma Chakrabarti: I am afraid I think it does go to the heart of some personality tensions. But let's address his two points first. I think there was absolutely no instruction -- to categorrically state -- from either Secretary of State Short or Secretary of State Amos, who overlapped with the CDS very briefly, or from me or from any senior official in DFID for anyone to sit in their tents and do nothing. I have also taken the liberty of actually checking with those people who were in those tents from DFID, they actually can't remember meeting Lord Boyce. But more importantly, perhaps, they didn't say anything of that of sort to anybody. What they would say -- I think this is an important lesson learned -- is that some of the deployments into the UK military should have happened earlier, linked to an early opening of the operational planning side of the military, and there probably should have been more of them, military advisers into the UK military at the time. That I would agree with. But those two points he made, from my perspective are incorrect. But I think -- the point I think is there is a personality issue here. I don't know Lord Boyce well but he had a navy background, so he hadn't had experience of working with DFID, unlike people in the army like Tim Cross. The relationship didn't get off to a great start in December when Clare Short rang him up to ask for the opening-up of the operational security barrier and planning. It didn't get improved when they were in War Cabinet together and she would give the ICRC view on what was happening particularly in Baghdad -- actually not in the UK sector, in the US sector -- about humanitarian access to hospitals and so on. The ICRC was finding it very difficult and Lord Boyce didn't agree with that take given the information he was receiving from the UK military. Then she actually wrote to him on 9 April making the same points and asking him to take up those points with [US] General [Tommy] Franks. On the DFID files there is no reply, but maybe there was. So I don't think the relationship was great.
That was the key point of Suma Chakrabarti's testimony, refuting Boyce's. Also testifying in the morning was Dominick Chilcott (no relation to Chair John Chilcot, as Chilcot pointed out) and he testified that the US and UK both failed to plan for southern Iraq (which the UK would end up with in the early years of the war).
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: So there was never really a clear decision on this. It kind of happened organically --
Dominick Chilcott: That's my reading of the papers, and there may be things that I haven't seen that are more definitie, but I haven't seen anything --
Commitee Member Roderic Lyne: But it was clearly agreed between our military commanders and the American commanders in charge of the whole operation that the British will go in and they will do the south, the Al Faw peninsula, Basra and so on, what you are really saying was it was an unintended, unplanned consequence of that that bit by by we found ourselves taking more and more control of the civil administration in the south. And by definition, therefore, we couldn't really have been properly geared up to do that because ministers had not take a clear decision that that's what we are going to do?
Dominick Chilcott: Correct. That's absolutely correct.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: You have said that more clearly than I think anybody else has said to us up to this point.
John Scarlett chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee from 2001 through 2004 and he testified in the afternoon. Boyce had noted last Thursday that US officials seemed unable to hear the warnings that there would be problems on the ground. Scarlett's testimony today was similar but with regards to the British. Commitee Member Lawrence Freedman questioned him on the dossier making the case that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons he could launch on England within 45 minutes. Freedman asked whether qualifiers should have been used more since the foreword contained a [weak] qualifier and that was it for the lengthy dossier which was then interpreted by others who may or may not have been qualified to interpret it. (Certainly Tony Blair benefitted from that and lied and misled.) Scarlett stated that he made "blunt assessments" to Blair back in February 2003. He stated his "assessment about the south did make clear the risk of serious disorder, serious -- revenge attacks against the regime, serious humanitarian issues potentially and made the point that it could not be taken for granted that the post-Saddam administration would automatically have this sort of popular support." He stated he couldn't quote back Tony Blair's reaction, he didn't recall it. But if he was warning Blair of these issues, it would not appear Blair listened by Blair's later actions.
Air Chief Marshall Brian Burridge and Lt Gen Robin Brims finished out today's testimony.
Comittee Member Martin Gilbert: Sir Brian, I wonder if you would tell us about your relationship with General Franks, when it began and when you first began to discuss Iraq planning with him?
Air Chief Marshall Brian Burridge: Okay. I first met General Franks in this guise on 17 April 2002. [C.I. note: Discusses Afghanistan and other issues at length.] . . . We moved on to Iraq only briefly. We were discussing in particular the No Fly Zones. You may recall that at that stage the Iraqis were being quite robust in seeking to entice coalition aircraft into what we regarded as SAM traps, surface-to-air missile traps, and we discussed that at some length. And then I said what are your thoughts about intervention in Iraq, and he said there is always an if, but it is true to say that the US armed forces, particularly the US air force, need about 18 months to reconstitute, rebuild weapons stocks, retrain, et cetera.
[. . .]
Committee Member Martin Gilbert: Going back to the summer of 2002, when you began to talk about Iraq in some detail, what in particular did you feel the Americans wanted from us? Were these specific commitments that they would like us to make? What level of commitment?
Air Chief Marshal Brian Burridge: General Franks came through London, as I recall, in mid May and he had an informal meeting with the Chiefs of Staff, at which I was present. And at that point he said something along the lines of in terms of Iraq, it is not if but when, and that was really the first time I had heard him say anything with that degree of certainty. In terms -- and he added that, in very non-specific terms, we very much hope the UK will be alongside us. We then -- it was probably late June when we started at the operational headquarters of the single services, Land Command, Strike Command and Fleet. We created comparments of a very few people, ten people in the case of Strike Command, to begin options planning for Iraq.
Burridge stated there was not enough civilian support. Asked about that, he referred the issue over to Robin Brims.
Lt Gen Robin Brims: I don't think -- and I could be wrong, but I don't think during my time in Basra I received any UK finance to help the reconstruction at that stage. I think that the initial finance to help the reconstruction all came from Baghdad, ie it was American or it was Iraqi money from Baghdad coming down, for example to pay policeman.
TV notes. This Sunday the History Channel airs The People Speak, Anthony Arnove notes it's "the long awaited documentary film inspired by Howard Zinn's books A People's History of the United States and Voices of a People's History of the United States." It airs Sunday, December 13th at 8:00pm EST and 7:00 Central (8:00pm Pacific as well):
Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, the documentary feature film THE PEOPLE SPEAK gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice.
Narrated by acclaimed historian Howard Zinn and based on his best-selling books, A People's History of the United States and, with Anthony Arnove, Voices of a People's History, THE PEOPLE SPEAK illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today and reminds us never to take liberty for granted.
THE PEOPLE SPEAK is produced by Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Chris Moore, Anthony Arnove, and Howard Zinn, co-directed by Moore, Arnove and Zinn, and features dramatic and musical performances by Allison Moorer, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Robinson, Christina Kirk, Danny Glover, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, David Strathairn, Don Cheadle, Eddie Vedder, Harris Yulin, Jasmine Guy, John Legend, Josh Brolin, Kathleen Chalfant, Kerry Washington, Lupe Fiasco, Marisa Tomei, Martín Espada, Matt Damon, Michael Ealy, Mike O'Malley, Morgan Freeman, Q'orianka Kilcher, Reg E. Cathey, Rich Robinson, Rosario Dawson, Sandra Oh, Staceyann Chin, and Viggo Mortensen.
Lastly, independent journalist David Bacon probes the effects of the state's budget cuts in "THE HUMAN FACE OF BUDGET CUTS" (ZNet):
Cesar Cota was the first in his family to attend college. "Now it's hard to achieve my dream," he says, "because the state put higher fees on us, and cut services and classes." Cota, a student at LA City College, was encouraged by the internship program of the LA College Faculty Guild to describe the human cost of budget cuts in he community college system.
David Robinson, who's worked since he was 14, hoped he'd get automotive mechanic training, and a good job at the end of it. "But by cutting these programs and raising fees," he says, "you're cutting opportunity for a lot of people who need it."
Another endangered student is Tina Vinaja, a mother of three teenagers whose husband took a weekend job to help pay her tuition hikes. Monica Mejia, a single mom, wants to get out of the low-wage trap. "Without community college," she says, "I'll end up getting paid minimum wage. I can't afford the fee hikes. I can barely make ends meet now."
LA City College even suspended its sports programs for a year. The school had a legendary basketball program that gave low-income students a pathway out of poverty. JaQay Carlyle says city college basketball sent him to UC Davis and on to law school.
These students make up a small part of the picture of suffering engendered by the economic crisis in California's community college system.
David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which just won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST).