Wednesday, February 16, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, one of Iraq's two vice presidents informs that "the government hushed up the results of the investigation," the Iraq Inquiry continues in England with some notice given (by Chair John Chilcott) to the human cost of the Iraq War, some details emerge on the deal the US cut with the KRG, and more.
Starting with Iraqi elections. At the start of this year, Iraq's national elections were supposed to take place in December 2009. There were many reasons for this including (a) the fact that it takes weeks for Iraq to put together a government (the winners of the elections will then decide in Parliament who the prime minister will be) and (b) the fact that the terms expire at the end of January 2010. But Nouri just knew he was able to move mountains and the elections were pushed back to January 2010. But no one worked the issue (including the US -- the scramble is yet another indictment against the US Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill). The press kept talking about January elections, kept saying they were taking place. Predicting instead of reporting. Not really understanding their role, their function or their obligation. After an election law suffered a veto from the country's Presidency Council, January went up in smoke. Currently, 'intended' elections may take place in March. That's a possibility due to frantic, last minute deals being made in the hours before midnight on December 6th allowing the latest election measure to pass. What deals were made?
Fuad Hussein is the Chief of Staff for the KRG President Masoud Barzani and Falah Mustafa Bakir heads the KRG's Dept of Foreign Relations.. Both are in DC for the week with plans to also visit Detroit and the Iraqi community there. Eli Lake (Washington Times) reports the Kurds got behind the election measure only after the US made a "historic" commitment to the KRG which Hussein states includes promises that the long postponed census would take place, the the issue of Kirkuk being resolved and more. With Lake's article, the Washington Times offers a video clip:
Fuad Hussein: Many people know that we were negotiating with Washington, with Baghdad. In Baghdad, we were negotiating with our group in Baghdad. We had two groups in Baghdad negotiating election law. We were negotiating with the American ambassador, we were negotiating with the other political leaders, Arab political leaders, in Baghdad. So we were about, for two weeks, the whole day and sometimes until one o'clock in the night, negotiating about this. So when we felt that there isn't any alternative as far as distrubtion of these seats but, to be honest, we find that it is not fair to give so little seats to the Kurdistan Region. We were thinking about a linkage and politics you have got that so we were thinking about a linkage between accepting this and getting also somewhere else or reaching somehwere else, another target so then the Americans were ready to discuss other matters with us which are our priorities and which are important and which has been riased and disccused many times at meetings with the American side and then it has been accepted and there was a green light to accept the election law.
Meanwhile Zvi Bar'el (Haaretz) speaks with Barzani and reports the KRG "is making due with an American commitment to preserve the region's autonomy as part of a federal Iraq, but his remarks have caused a shudder in both Iraq and Turkey because an American commitment implies support for Kurdish demands that the Iraqi government opposes." And among the current conflicts between the KRG and Baghdad is oil. UPI notes, "As it is, Baghdad is already at odds with Iraq's Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous enclave in the northeast. In the absence of an oil law, the Kurdish Regional Government is battling the centeral government over Kurdistan's energy resources. The KRG has signed contracts, far more lucrative than those secured by the central government, with some 20 foreign oil companies. The Kurds see this as the economic underpinning of an eventual independent state." (Mike noted and weighed in on Eli Lake's article last night.)
Meanwhile BBC News reports that Nouri's cabinet has a new 'brainstorm' on countering bombings? Offer rewards "for information that prevents bomb attacks." Of course, you need to grasp that if you tip off on a bomb attack, your name probably goes on a list that, in a later bombing, will lead you to be among the many suspects who are beaten into giving confessions and then have your confession aired on Iraqi TV -- it's Nouri's own little reality show, Who Wants To Be Forced To Confess To A Crime You Didn't Commit? And, of course, turning tipsters into later suspects means Nouri won't actually have to pay any reward money. Not that there would ever be any check on it to begin with because it's not as if the tipster will show up on TV announcing, "We were starving but now, thanks to Nouri and my bombing tip, we have a home!" Such an admission would most likely get you killed. In the real world, Hoda al-Jasim (Asharq Alawsat) interviewed Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, this week and he had a number of comments regarding what's being called Iraq's "security crisis."
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your joy did not last long, as less than 36 hours later the Tuesday bombings took place. What is your explanation of the timing of these attacks? In your opinion, who is responsible for this security crisis?
[Tariq al-Hashimi] I have a theory with regards to these operations, as there is more than one party being targeted. I am very saddened by what happened and I feel embarrassed as although I am in a high ranking [governmental] position I am unable to reduce the internal casualties. The problem is that the security file is in the hands of one party, and the Presidency Council is marginalized and excluded from any consultation or participation [in this]. We have not received any information on the Bloody Wednesday attacks [19 August 2009], or the Bloody Sunday attack [25 October 2009] and the Tuesday attack [8 December 2009; all [the information] that we have is the same information that reaches any Iraqi citizen through the media. The Presidency Council does not know what is happening, and we do not have the capabilities that will allow us to find out what is happening or whether the official in charge of the security file had learnt from previous lessons and saved Iraqi lives. I hope that Iraqi Prime Minister and commander-in-chief (Nouri al-Maliki), who is exclusively responsible for this security file, is fair and courageous and shoulders the responsibility and gives justice to all the lives lost and blood shed by saying that the security challenges are greater than his ability, and that he admits default and failure, and hands the security file to professional security experts. When he does this, I will stand strongly beside the Iraqi Prime Minister and support him, when he admits failure in managing the security file, and makes the decision to hand responsibility of this over to someone else.
[. . .]
I am very concerned that the government has kept silent about the outcome of the Bloody Wednesday and Bloody Sunday investigations, as what happened happened because the dark forces had the freedom to pick the time and location [of the attacks], which not only targeted the institutions of the state, but also innocent people. Therefore the time has come to admit defeat and hand over this file to those who possess [security] expertise and skill. We must admit failure and hand over this investigation to specialist committees, the security services should not conduct this investigation as they themselves stand accused, rather this investigation should be handed over to high level committees to study what happened and hold those involved accountable.
Hand over? al-Hashimi responds to a question as to whether or not (as rumored) the Presidency Council is against the execution of 'suspects' by noting that Nouri has kept the Presidency Council completely out of the loop in the investigation and they've seen no evidence of anything: "the government hushed up the results of the investigation." On the investigation into yesterday's Baghdad bombings, Ned Parker and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) report, "The [Iraqi] investigators were heard discussing how two people wearing officers uniforms had parked in the lot and walked away." Suadad al-Salhy, Ahmed Rasheed, Mohammed Abbas, Missy Ryan and Jon Hemming (Reuters) add, "There is widespread suspicion in Iraq that the police and armed forces have been infiltrated by militants, take bribes to allow insurgents to mount attacks, or may be colluding with militants to undermine Maliki before a March 7 general election."
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Iraqi soldier shot dead in Mosul in an attack on a military checkpoint and, dropping back to last night, 1 person shot dead in Mosul ("owner of a neighbourhood generator").
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 Baghdad roadside bombing targeting Sahwa leader Shiekh Latif which claimed the life of the sheikh and left two other people injured, a Baghdad mini-bus bombing which claimed 2 lives and left five people wounded and, dropping back to last night for all that follows, a Baghdad sticky bombing left Col Abdulrazaq Mohammed injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded one police officer, a Baghdad grenade attack on a "grain storage building" which wounded two guards, a Baghdad car bombing which injured five people, and a Mosul bombing which left two people injured. On the Sahwa assassination, Wang Guanqun (Xinhua) adds the two with him were his bodyguards.
Sahwa is also known as the "Sons of Iraq" and the "Awakening" Councils. Corey Flintoff (NPR, text only) reports today that Sahwa states "they've fallen on hard times" since the US turned control over (read: "payment for") to Nouri al-Maliki's Baghdad government. Flintoff explains how the US toe-hold in Baquba is thought by some to have only been achieved via the Sahwa but now tensions between Iraqi police forces and the Sahwa have them even more doubtful about their future in the country: "One Sahwa leader, who calls himself Haji Khalid, is taking no chances. Recently, he met with a group of reporters in a quiet street at the edge of the city, then drove with them to another house, where he agreed to be interviewed. Khalid says that if anyone from Sahwa shows his face in the city, he will very likely be detained the next day on false charges. He says the problem is partly political, as proved during the run-up to last year's provincial elections. Khalid says that Sahwa leaders who announced they were running for office were promptly arrested, and many remain in prison." He also notes that of the estimated 94,000 Sahwa (some -- including US Gen David Petraeus -- have given a higher estimate), only "about 21,000 have been recruited into the Iraqi security forces". Flintoff's correct about the small number and his text report should be on air if only to refute last week's 'expert' brought on All Things Considered and allowed to pontificate wildly (and wrongly) about Sahwa.
In refugee news, Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports on the visit to Camp Ashraf yesterday, "With loudspeakers mounted on pickup trucks and riot police offering backup, Iraqi troops on Tuesday ordered a group of Iranian dissidents here to vacate their sancturary, which has become an irritant in Iraq's relationship with Iran" and quotes Brig Gen Basel Hamad stating, "We will not allow any foreigners to establish their own laws on Iraqi soil." The residents are Iranian dissidents who have lived in Iraq for decades now. Following the US invasion, the US made them surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28th the world saw what Nouri's 'promises' were actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. Last week, his plans to 'relocate' them was announced. Yesterday Iran's Press TV reported that the residents "defied the Iraqi government's orders to leave" and that, "According to a plan ordered by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki the group should first be moved to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and later to a 1950s detention camp in southern Iraq." Today Press TV reports , "A resolution presented by Democratic lawmakers has called on President Barack Obama to stop the relocation". AFP reports that US House Rep Bob Filner is leading the effort and held a press conference yesterday where he declared, "We are here to call on whoever will listen, the Iraqi government, the US government, to halt the forcible relocation of the residents of Camp Ashraf." UPI adds, "The National Council of Reistance of Iran, a Paris-based umbrella organization representing Iranian dissident groups, said 2,172 mayor in France signed a declaration in opposition to a decision in Baghdad to expel members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran from their Camp Ashraf enclave."
In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues hearing public testimony. BBC News reports Lt Gen Robert Fry has testified today that the US invasion into Iraq would have been a failure without the participation of British troops. Lt Gen Robert Fry is one witness giving testimony today. Also appearing before the committee is Nigel Sheinwald, John Sawers and Desmond Bowen (link goes to video and transcript options, unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the transcripts). Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogs today's hearing and also tweets them on Twitter. Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) live blogged as well and noted this section:
2.02pm: Sir John Sawers starts with a clarification of something he said in last week. The Department for Interntional Development was not substantially involved in policy making in the run up to the war. It was not involved on the ground. But they were involved in some meetings.
Sawers is tidying up something he said last week. Chris Ames at the Iraq Inquiry Digest has got more on this here.
Chris Ames writes:
During last Thursday's hearing at the Inquiry, committee member Sir Roderick Lyne came close to calling Sir John Sawers a liar – in the nicest possible way. Sawers, former foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair and currently head of MI6, is back before the Inquiry this afternoon with a strong hint that he needs to set the record straight. But will we ever find out the truth of the matter?
Lyne put it to Sawers, that Sir Suma Chakrabarti, previously the permanent secretary at the department for international development (DFID), had told the Inquiry that DFID were excluded from the Cabinet Office's 2001 review of Iraq policy, probably for political reasons. Sawers, who was responsible for the review from No 10's point of view, said that he hadn't excluded them. After a bit of waffle, Lyne said:
"Given that Sir Suma has introduced this point into evidence here, you might just want to look back at some of the papers and take some advice on this and if there is anything further you want to say about it when we see you next week, I'm sure we would be happy to hear it."
Chakrabarti hadn't actually said that No 10 was responsible – in fact he ducked the question. It's difficult to imagine Lyne giving Sawers such a stong hint if he didn't know there was something in the papers that could make him change his answer.
Staying with the afternoon hearing (Sheinwald, Sawers and Bowen), we'll note this section on 2004.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Just lasly on this period, a pretty awful month was Abu Ghraib. Did you have any anticipation of this as an issue, and how did you respond when the revelations came out?
Nigel Sheinwald: I didn't. John?
John Sawers: We knew of difficulties in the conditions for detainees dating back to the June/July of 2003. We knew that the Americans had taken a more direct -- more activist approach to ensuring the facilities were secure and met ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] standards, but we also understood that there were difficulties. The US army reviewed the detainee -- called for a review of the detainee arrangments in January of that year and it reported with a number of recommendations privately. I'm not aware that we saw a copy of that review. But the revelations at Abu Ghraib were definitely a shock to us, as they were to everybody on the American side as well as across the world. They came out -- they were way beyond anything that we had envisaged that might be going wrong. We thought the basic problems were about poor conditions and possibly unnecessary violence, but Abu Ghraib was an extra dimension. I would just say that that spring of 2004, March, April, May, was one of the low points in managing Iraq policy at the London end. We had, as Nigel says, the crises in Falluja first, in March, and then again at the end of April, the beginning of May. We had the crisis in Najaf, we had the Abu Ghraib facilities. I remember visiting Iraq. I used to go regularly; I went three times in 2004. I visited Iraq in early May and it was the gloomiest and most downbeat visit that I paid throughout my four years of working on Iraq policy. And I think it was then that we realised the scale of the task that was ahead of us and the need to really put our heads down and be in it for the longer term, because the insurgency and the violence was clearly not at a peak and it was clearly going to get worse at that stage. And the Abu Ghraib issues just added another nasty twist to the difficulties that we faced.
John Chilcot is the Chair of the Inquiry. He noted the failure "to foresee the situation" -- realities on the ground in Iraq which developed after the start of the war -- "and if we had forseen it, it would have been beyond our compass to deal with it."
John Sawers: I think you are right that we failed to foresee it. The planning for the post-war, as we all know, was inadequate. The level of violence that we faced was not forseen and we didn't have enough in the way of sheer military presence, either we or the Americans, to deal with the scale of the violence that we were facing. But I think we do need to recognise that the reason so many Iraqis lost their lives, the reason it took longer than we would have liked to put Iraq back on a reasonable footing, the reason why the reconstruction effort was so difficult was because of the scale and determination of the insurgents to destroy what we were doing.
Sawers repeatedly hit on the lack of planning. Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) quotes him stating, "Frankly, had we known the scale of violence, it might well have led to second thoughts about the entire project. It was not though through." Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger also emphasizes that quote from Sawers, dubs that among the "strong lines buried away today" -- and includes this as well, "Similarly, right at the end of evidence, when Lyne asked Sheinwald whether joining the US had been worth the high cost of lives lost and bodies mutilated. Even now, Sir Nigel said, that's very hard to answer. What has it done for our international reputation, Lyne went on. That's hard to answer too, he replied; it depends to whom you're talking and whether it is in public or private. Even in fluent Mandarinese this was troubling stuff." Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) ended his live blogging today noting what he saw as key moments including when Chair John Chilcott spoke of how "the committee itself is extremely . . . aware of the casualty list, the blood. Treasure you can rebuild. Blood you can't back. I don't know whether at this stage we shall come to the kind of final judgement that these last questions have raised. This may be the first draft of history. But we are conscious throughout of that cost that has been incurred by humankind. I think I'll close with that."
In addition to Sawers possible problems noted earlier by Sparrow and Ames, the Belfast Telegraph states that another witness, also with M16 at one point (Sawers is the current head of M16) has problems: John Scarlett. They note his claim that the assertion of Iraq being able to attack England "within 45 minutes" was both "reliable and authoritative" is refuted by Brian Jones ("senior WMD analyst"): "Dr Jones, who was head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff in the run-up to the invasion, said that it was 'absolutely clear' the intelligence the Government relied upon was coming from untried sources. The 45-minute claim was one of the key assertions that convinced MPs to take Britian to war."
Turning to the US, last week the Army again released their suicide data (no, other branches don't appear to have to dislcose) for the month of November which includes: "The Army released suicide data for the month of November today. Among active-duty soldiers, there were 12 potential suicides, all of which are pending determination of the manner of death. For October, the Army reported 16 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers. Since the release of that report, three have been confirmed as suicides, and 13 remain under investigation. There were 147 reported active duty Army suicides from January 2009 through November 2009. Of these, 102 have been confirmed, and 45 are pending determination of manner of death. For the same period in 2008, there were 127 suicides among active-duty soldiers." On this topic, Mark Thompson (Time magazine) reports "Neither the U.S. military nor the American public would tolerate a conflict in which U.S. losses mounted for five straight years. Yet, that's what's happening in the Army's battle with suicides. The recently released figure for November show that 12 soldiers are suspected of taking their own lives, bringing to 147 the total suicides for 2009, the highest since the Army began keeping track in 1980. Last year the Army had 140 suicides. Although Army officials don't blame the spike on repeated deployments to war zones, evidence is mounting to the contrary." Meanwhile veterans face a variety of issues. Female veterans face many issues similar to the one male veterans face but they also face issues specific to gender (not surprising in a misogynist society). This week, AP has been exploring some of them. Kimeberly Hefling (AP) reported on some of those issues and also notes these basics, "More than 230,000 American women have fought in those recent wars and at least 120 have died doing so, yet the public still doesn't completely understand their contributions on the modern battlefield. For some, it's a lonely transition as they struggle to find their place. In another AP story, Hefling reported on the issue of homelessness among female veterans and notes that they tend to be "younger than homeless male veterans and more likely to bring children." Hefling also reports that in Martinsburg, West Virginia, the VA Medical Center "see almost twice as many women [as] it did before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Administrators opened a women's clinic and are trying to take female veterans into consideration when deciding everything from the color of the walls to the size of the prosthetics offered. Waiting areas soon will have kid-friendly tables. On-site day care for veterans with medical appointments is under review." These additions didn't just happen. Congress has had to join veterans in advocating for them. On the US House Veterans Affairs Committee, for example, US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has introduced bills such as the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (HR 1211) to address issues. In addition to that and other measures, the GAO studies have also illuminated problems as US House Rep Michael Michaud noted at the start of the July 16th Veterans Affairs Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee and the Subcommittee On Health joint-hearing on Eliminating the Gaps: Examining Women Veterans' Issues:
While we have made some progress on the issues facing women veterans, it is clear that more needs to be done. Just earlier this week, there was an article in MSNBC about the VA inadequately serving women veterans. This article described the key findings of a GAO report which reveald that no VA hospital or outpatient clinic is complying fully with federal privacy requirements. In other words, many VA facilities had gynecological tables that faced the door, including one door that opened to a waiting room. Beyond these privacy concers, VA facilities were built to serve male veterans and, therefore, do not accomodate the presence of children. This means that some women veterans have had to resort to changing babies' diapers on the floors of VA hospitals due to the absence of changing tables in the women's bathrooms. In light of these challenges which continue to face women veterans, it is important that we do more to address these issues.
Others covering female veterans issues include Hugh Lessig (Daily Press) who reported on a female veterans forum Senator Mark Waner held Monday in Alexandria, VA where he heard from veterans about the issues they face such as Grace After Fire's Kayla Williams who, when hanging with those she served with, is assumed to be a girlfriend or Genevieve Chase who is limited when choosing from those she served with to call about combat stress or other issues because her call might be seen by a wife or girlfriend as threatening. WTKR's Bob Matthews (link has text and video) reports on one of the meetings Warner held yesterday:
Bob Matthews: Kayla Williams was a member of the 1st Airborne, she was a translator, she was shot at by the enemy. When she came home though, she said she was treated as if she was never there.
Kayla Williams: I had people ask me if I was allowed to carry a gun because I'm just a girl? And I had other people ask me if I was in the infantry.
Bob Matthews: It's why Senator Mark Warner came to Norfolk. He helped pass a bill that orders the VA to find out if it's giving female soldiers what they need to become civilians. More than 85,000 have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the war on terror began in 2002 but many, like Kayla Williams, don't feel the government gives them the care they need to go from the frontlines to the homefront.
Kayla Williams: I have a friend who was told by a VA doctor that she couldn't have PTSD because women aren't in combat.
"I'd love to say that it's going to be fixed in a year from now but I don't think it's going to be fixed," Warner tells Matthews. "We've got to keep the pressure on and we've got to keep the pressure on."
From Warner's Senate website:
Senator Warner hosted a round table discussion in Norfolk today with a group of military women to discuss the oftentimes difficult transition back to their normal lives after returning home from combat.
Last month, Senator Warner won passage of legislation directing the Veterans Administration to launch a study into the post traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) that afflict thousands of military women who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Kayla Williams, who served as a translator with the 101st Airborne Division and was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, said that friends of hers have been told by VA officials, "You can't have PTSD because you're a woman, and women don't see combat."
However in Iraq and Afghanistan, the "frontlines" of the war are no longer as clear as they used to be, and the stress of war can affect everyone.
Williams said women often return home and assume the caretaker role for spouses and children, and rarely ask, "Do I need care also?"
Senator Warner said the VA study has two goals: to make sure that women veterans are getting adequate treatment -- and that they receive the benefits they have earned.
The group said that treatment at different VA hospitals varies, and that some are better at treating female soldiers than others, especially for those who have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Senator Warner said he would push to make sure these issues are addressed by the VA: "I'd love to say its gonna be fixed in a year from now. I don't think its going to be fixed in a year from now, but we've got to keep the pressure on and we've got to keep the focus on and we've got to make sure that these women veterans who've served so well feel comfortable claiming their rights."
We'll wrap up by making like Betty and Stan and noting Riverdaughter's "Matt Yglesias tells the rest of us to 'Grow up'" (The Confluence):
Here's the thing, Matt: you can't tell people to spend their electoral and emotional capital on candidates who they like and then pull the rug out from under them without consequences. You can't insist on an empty suit for President and promise Change! and transformation and then not deliver for the electorate after you've made them abandon who they really want without some of those people giving up on you. And you can't tell a country that they have no choice and expect them to feel like they are still free.
The Democratic party has engaged in a process of teaching their constituents learned helplessness. It has over and over again raised expectations and then dashed them. It has asked for our input as a formality and then ignored it. It has belittled and demeaned and made inconsequential the lives of average voters and their families. Now, those same voters, seeing no reason to expend any more energy on a pointless game they cannot participate in has decided to sit it out.
Your buddies are in deep trouble now by their own doing. Don't blame the electorate for not caring whether you stay in power or not. They don't exist for your wish fulfillment. They've got more important things to do with their time, like figuring out how to make a living without your help. Your party, which *used* to be my party, has a leadership vacuum. You quashed the one leader you had and now, who among your ranks has the moral authority to lead us through this mess of a recession? There is no one. The electorate is just responding to the grim reality of the situation you and your childish enthusiasm have created for them.
Grow up, Matt. You reap what you sow.
In the US, we do not have 100% voting rate. Because we're not the USSR or something similar. In the United States, one of the freedoms we still have left is to vote for who we want or not to vote at all if that is our choice. Don't let anyone bully you into voting for someone or into voting. Your vote, you own it. Use it as you see fit, that's your right, guaranteed in a democracy.