Monday, January 11, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Monday, January 11, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, Iraq and Iran continue to have border disputes but oil concerns are replaced with nuclear ones, the Iraq Inquiry hears about many things including Harry Potter, new documents indicate Tony Blair's government may have altered assertions to match up with George W. Bush, the Netherlands has their own Iraq issues brewing, and more.
Starting in London where the Iraq Inquiry resumed their public hearings for the week.  The Inquiry is chaired by John Chilcot.  Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger blogs and tweets the public hearing and notes:
Two weekend nuggets that you may have missed, especially if you're not a Twitter follower. By a strange twist of synchronicity, exactly one hour before the Campbell session starts at 10h00, the Dutch equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry will release its own report on that country's involvement in Iraq.               
I won't pretend to follow the minutiae of Netherlands politics but at least one media report suggests that "Tuesday could be the blackest day" of the Dutch PM's career: it sounds as though he resisted the creation of the "Davids Commission" as long as he possibly could. No parallels there then.
The second thing Iraq Inquiry Blogger notes is this BBC profile of committee member Roderic Lyne. Glen Oglaza (Sky News) is also providing live Twittering of the Iraq Inquiry.  On the Dutch issue, Radio Netherlands states the country's prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende's future "could [be] deterime[d]" by the findings: "Unless the commission resolves all doubts about the level of Dutch support, the lower house will in all likelihood demand a full parliamentary enquiry. One of the main questions that many people hope the Davids Commission will answer is whether the cabinet fully informed the lower house about the Netherlands' involvement in Iraq. Rumours about the involvement of Dutch special forces and intelligence operatives have been circulating since the invasion and if they prove to be true, it could lead to the prime minister's resignation."
Today the Iraq Inquiry heard from Lt Gen Richard Shirref and Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw (link goes to video and transcript options). Shaw commander the British M-NF forces from January 2007 to August of 2007 while Shirref was in charge from July 2006 until Shaw took over. British forces were primarily in and around Basra and the now forgotten Maysan.
Lt Gen Richard Shirref: The two provinces which were principally the concern of the British, Maysan and Basra, were a different story though. Maysan had always been a very difficult province. There were effectively no security at all where MNF were concerned. The cities of Amarah and Majarr-al-Kabir were effectively no-go areas, and in particular Amarah; any operations into Amarah resulted in significant fighting, at times up to battle group level. The principal British base in Maysan, Camp Abu Naji, was being subjected to continuous attack, as was any movment up and down the route to and from that camp.
For an overview of what the British faced in 2006, this is from the November 22, 2006 snapshot:
In England, This Is London reports: "Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett this afternoon surprised MPs by signalling the countdown to a withdrawal from Iraq. She told the Commons that Basra, where the bulk of the UK's 7,200 personnel are stationed, could be handed over from British military control to Iraqi forces as early as next spring."  Basra has been a violent area for British soldiers (and for Iraqis).  Earlier this month, on England's Rememberance Sunday, four British troops were killed while on a boat patrol in Basra and three more were wounded.  The four killed included Sharron Elliott who was "the second British female servicewoman to die in action."  The other three were Jason Hylton, Ben Nowak, and Lee Hopkins.  Mortar attacks have been common in Basra and, in August, a British soldier died as a result of wounds received from mortar rounds.  In October, a British soldier died in Basra from road traffic.  The end of October was also when the British consulate in Basra was evacuated after it was decided it was no longer safe after two months of mortar attacks.  (In August, British troops 'evacuated' from their base in Amara due to repeated mortar attacks.)
Amara would have been a topic to explore.  The British fled with no notice.  The base was then ripped apart by 'insurgents' in less than 12 hours of the British fleeing. The committee largely ignored the issue.  Committee member Lawrence Freedman did observe, "Effectively, our forces were spending a lot of their time protecting themselves and were therefore not available for other tasks." Shirref didn't want to go into as anything other than a fleeting mention and he quickly asserted Basra was all that mattered.
Lt Gen Richard Shirreff: Basra itself seemed to me to be the key issue, the second city of Iraq, and it was in Basra that the British reputation was going to stand or fall.  What I found when I arrived was effectively no security at all. Any movement required deliberate operation to conduct -- to get around the city. There was a significant lack of troops on the ground. I think when I went out on my recce in May 2006, the single battalion commander responsible for a city of 1.3 million people told me that he could put no more than 13 half platoons or multiples on the ground, less than 200 soldiers on the ground, in a city of 1.3 million.  You compare that, for example, with what I recall, as a young platoon commander in West Belfast in the late 1970s when there was a brigade on the ground. The result of all that was what I call a cycle of insecurity. No security meant no reconstruction and development, it meant a loss of consent, the militia filled the gap and, effectively, the militia controlled the city. So my objective was to re-establish security in Basra.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: You say "re-establish," what you have described is a pretty gloomy prospect. How do you think, after all this time, this situation had been allowed to develop?
Lt Gen Richard Shirreff: I can't answer that. All I can tell you is the situation as I found it.
Of the day's other witness, Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian of England) observes, "Maj Gen Jonathan Shaw, British commander based in Basra in 2007, told the inquiry that Basra was 17th on the department's list of priorities. That British forces there had to rely on US money was 'pretty shaming', Shaw said."  Where did American money go -- identified by Shirreff as "US tax payer money," which it is, but let's note he was aware of it and credited it as such repeatedly in his own testimony -- on propaganda films according to Shirreff (he didn't use the word "propaganda") which aired on local televsion.  Back to Shaw.  He used the term "the dark state" and was asked of it, told it sounded like something out of Harry Potter leading him to reply it wasn't JK Rowling:
What it meant, therefore, was that you had a direct link between the people in power advising Maliki sat in his Cabinet down through the shadow state and down to their militias, the sort of violent militias, the criminals, the murderers and the terrorists at the bottom, there was a strict linkage between those three, and so what you ended up with was a system where the dark state was protected by the official state.
Tomorrow Alastair Campbell appears before the Iraq Inquiry and his appearance comes after a revelation over the weekend. Chris Ames (Guardian) explains:

Once again it is the media -- rather than the Iraq inquiry – who are putting new information about Iraq into the public domain. In today's Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor and I reveal the extent to which the notorious September 2002 dossier on Iraq's WMD was sexed-up on Alastair Campbell's instructions to fit in with bogus American claims. The idea that Campbell and intelligence chief John Scarlett were unwitting participants in accidental sexing-up has taken another blow.                                             
There is a prologue and an epilogue to today's story. The prologue shows that Campbell and Scarlett knew exactly what they were doing. The epilogue shows that Campbell was still not happy, even after the dossier's worst-case estimate of how quickly Saddam Hussein could get a bomb was effectively halved to fit in with what George W Bush had told the UN.                  
According to his published diaries, on 2 April 2002 Campbell and Scarlett were at a meeting at Chequers where Tony Blair had made clear that the aim of UK government policy was "regime change". Three weeks later Campbell met officials including Scarlett "to go through what we needed to do communications wise to set the scene for Iraq, eg a WMD paper and other papers about Saddam. Scarlett a very good bloke."                       
In July 2002, Blair, Campbell and Scarlett were all present at the now famous Downing Street meeting where Sir Richard Dearlove, the then head of MI6, reported that in the US "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of invading Iraq.

Tim Shipman (Daily Mail) adds, "The first draft of the British dossier was completed, using intelligence from MI6, on Septemofber 10, 2002. It concluded that it would take 'at least two years' for Iraq to get a nuclear bomb. But two days later President Bush used a keynote address to the United Nations to declare: 'Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year'." And "11 days later," Tony Blair began stating publicly "a year or two." 
Turning to political issues in Iraq.  Last week, many of Nouri's political rivals were informed they were being banned from the expected March elections.  Today Michael Jansen (Irish Times) reported, "IRAQ'S NATIONAL security council, the country's highest political body, yesterday discussed a call to ban 15 political parties and candidates from standing in the March 7th parliamentary election on the grounds that they are tied to the outlawed Baath Party. If accepted by the election commission, the proposal, put forward by a body charged with purging Baathists, would deny representation to both Sunni and secular Iraqis and torpedo any chance of national unity."  Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) adds:
The commission is heir to the old De-Baathification Commission, set up in 2003 by Paul Bremer, the US czar of Iraq, and led by Ahmed Chalabi and his cronies. Among those banned was one of Iraq's most significant players, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni leader and an important member of parliament, whose National Dialogue Front is a popular vote-getter among Iraq's disenfranchised Sunni populace. Mutlaq, a well-known politician, has drawn support from current and former Baathists, secular Sunnis opposed to the Shiite-sectarian rulers in Baghdad, and Iraqis concerned about the intrusive influence of Iran in Iraqi affairs.                    
Over the past several months, Mutlaq had helped to build a powerful opposition bloc set to challenge both Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who controls a faction of the secretive, sectarian Shiite Dawa party, and the broader Shiite alliance comprised of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr's forces, and Chalabi, the neoconservatives' favorite wheeler-dealer. That alliance was formed with the strong support of Iran, whose authoritarian leaders and radical clerics helped assemble it. ISCI, which has a paramilitary arm, the Badr Brigade, was formed in 1982 as an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and for many years it was actually under the command of Iranian military officers. Sadr, a mercurial Shiite nationalist, has fallen under Iran's umbrella, too, and he has spent most of the past two years living in Qom, Iran's religious capital. Chalabi, despite his neocon connections, has long been suspected of having covert ties to Iran's intelligence service.
Bremer was responsible for de-Ba'athification.  But who was responsible for de-de-Ba'athifcation.  The White House (under Bush) made that one of the Iraq benchmarks -- benchmarks Nouri signed off on.  To bring the Ba'athists back in was one of the benchmarks and a weak law was tossed around Parliament but not implemented and when is anything going to be done about that?  And why is the US propping up the government it created?  Have we all forgotten the Pentagon Papers and the shocking revelation that the government was admitting the US was in Vietnam to prop up the government they'd created?  Nouri al-Maliki signed off on those benchmarks and was never forced to follow them.  James Cogan (WSWS) notes some troubling signs:
Tensions in Sunni communities were already rising before this latest provocation. The attempt to proscribe Mutlaq and other Sunni parties follows the rewriting of the electoral law by the Shiite and Kurdish parties to reduce the proportion of seats elected in Sunni areas. There have also been reports of widespread arrests and killings of Sunnis by government troops and police.
According to the newspaper Azzaman, "hundreds of young people have been taken away from Tikrit, Anbar and Mosul". In Baghdad, there have allegedly been numerous arrests in the Sunni majority district of Abu Ghraib, in the west of the city. At least 10 militiamen of the Sunni "Awakening" militias in the capital have reportedly been assassinated.             
The Obama administration has made no public comment on the actions of the Justice and Accountability Board. However, it can hardly welcome a development that threatens to inflame communal tensions and undermine arrangements that underpin its plans to reduce troop numbers down to 50,000 by August and redirect US forces to Afghanistan.                 
It is barely two years since the US military struck a deal with the bulk of the Sunni-based insurgency to abandon armed resistance in exchange for an end to sectarian persecution by Shiite forces, regular payment and implicit guarantees of greater political influence for the Sunni elite.
This as NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition, text and audio link) reports on the one-time 'model' Anbar Province which is now seeing increased violence and disenchanted citiznes who protest with chants of "Save us" and "We've been sold out."  The "model" depended upon cash.  In April 2008, Gen David Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker explained to Congressional committees how the 'model' worked: The US military paid Sunni 'insurgents' cash to stop attacking US military equipment and US service members.  The US appears to have stopped payments around the month of June of this year and Nouri -- who was supposed to take over payments long ago -- sometimes pays, sometimes pays a portion and sometimes tells these 'insurgents' (who became Sawha -- "Awakenings," "Sons Of Iraq") the check's in the mail.  With payments questionable (and Arab media reports rumors that payments end this month) and with the bulk of Sahwa still not brought into Iraqi security forces, many Sahwa no longer feel the need to do what they were once paid for.
Moving to border issues.  WashingtonTV reports that Iraq has asked the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agnecy about Iran's reported plans "to build a nuclear reactor near the border between the two countries."  Energy and border issues appear to go hand-in-hand for Iraq and Iran.  In December, the world was left to sort out the competing claims (as oil prices soared) that Iran had or was occupying an Iraqi oil field.  Iran denied the occupation and/or insisted that it was Iran's oil field anyway while Iraq insisted the occupation was taking place and that it was Iraq's oil fields.  As noted in Friday's snapshot,  Alice Fordham (Times of London) reported that Hoshyar Zebari (Iraq's Foreign Minister) met with Manouchehr Mottaki (Iran's Foreign Minister) in Baghdad to address the Fakka oil field: "Both ministers indicated after the meeting that they had not been able to resolve the ownership of the parts of Fakka oil field disputed since the 1988 end of the Iran-Iraq war, nor had they agreed on a version of what happened in the incursion. Mr Zebari said that after 'direct action' was taken by the Iraqi Government the Iranian flag was lowered at the site, while Mr Mottaki said that the Iraqi side might have been partly to blame."  The Tehran Times reported that the two reached "important agreements for resolving the disputes over their borders" and that Iran would build a fence to settle the Fakka oil field dispute. UPI observed, 'If Iran took control of the southern fields it, rather than Iraq, would surpass Saudi Arabia, its Sunni-dominated regional rival."   Yesterday Press TV quoted Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Iran's Ambassador to Iraq, stating, "The eight-year war between Iran and Iraq and environmental issues have to some extent shifted the border demacrations between the two countries, if corrected the uncertainty regarding the Fakkeh oil field can be resolved."
Iran and Iraq's relations were the subject of the latest Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) where moderator Jasim al-Azzawi was joined by Issam al-Chalabi (Iraq's Oil Minister, 1987 - 1990) and Seyed Mohammad Marandi (University of Tehran).
Jasim al-Azzawi: Issam al-Chalabi, some Iraqi politicians, including the prime minister, they downplayed the importance of the Iranian incursion and the seizure of the Fakkah oil well. Iran calls it a misunderstanding. What is your take? What is your interpretation of the Iranian action?
Issam al-Chalabi: First of all, I'm not surprised by the reactions from Maliki and some of his aides and politicians because of their bad past history. And there is doubt about their loyalty.  It is questionable. They were brought up in Iran and Iran is like a godfather to them.  As for the Iranian?  I really am not surprised by such action because this is not the first time. It happened so many times throughout the past century, throughout the past decades, with every single Iraqi regime regardless of whether it was a monarchy or a republican.  Even when we have a regime that's considered to be a brotherly regime like the one we have with Iran, yet we see that Iran had overstepped and infringed on the sovereignty of Iraq.  I am a bit surprised: Why did they use force?  If they had such a good relationship with the Iraqi government, couldn't they sit down and talk if they had any grievances, if they had any claim on any piece of land or anything else? That is something that makes me wonder what is behind the action and the time of the Iranian regime.
Jasim al-Azzawi: Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Issam al-Chalabi, is wondering about the reason behind it and, before you answer that, history as well as the last bilateral agreement signed between Iraq and Iran with the help of  Algiers in 1975, the famous agreement [1975 Algiers Agreement], shows that Fakkah is on Iraqi land. You're not disputing that are you?
Seyed Mohammad Marandi: No. I think it's obvious that the Iranians have no problem with the Algiers Accord. I think that was the reason why Saddam Hussein invaded and destroyed both of the -- much of the infrastructure of both countries as a result and of course he had the support of many Western countries and many regimes in the region, as well, at that time. Iranians from the very start, even during the war, they said that that is the basis of any agreement with Iraq.  And fortunately, the current Iraqi government says the same thing as well. Iran has no problem with the border. The problem was that basically this region, because of the war and because of the problems that Iraq had after the invasion of Kuwait -- a weak central government, and then the chaos that ensued after the American invasion of the country, the border isn't all that clear in some spots. Exactly where it should stand is not clear.  Should it be a few hundred metres --
Jasim al-Azzawi: That is not a very good explaination, Seyed Mohammad Marandi.  You'll have to much better than that.
Seyed Mohammad Marandi: Well -- I think it's quite clear: The border has to be defined by a joint-committee on both sides and both sides have agreed to establish a joint-committee to demarcate the land so that it is precise where things stand.  Otherwise it wasn't a major issue at all. And I don't think the Iranians had any intentions or the Iraqi government had any intention to create any problems between the two countries. I think that there are forces both within the borders of Iraq and without that want an excuse to create tensions between Iran and Iraq.  I think countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States and some people who are remanents of the Ba'athist regime would like to create a superficial crisis that is really non-existent and there is no reason -- 
Issam al-Chalabi: Can I?
Seyed Mohammad Marandi: -- for either side to have any trouble. It is easy resolvable --
Jasim al-Azzawi: I am surprised, Seyed Marandi, that you would blame some regional countries rather than the actions of the Iranian government. Ironically, it was Iran which after the agreement signed between Iraq and Iran deposited all the agreement of the 1975, including the protocols regarding borders, which included 262 border stakes, the coordinates of which, the location, the description, all that was deposited with the United Nations. So, Issam al-Chalabi, I am asking you this time, why doesn't the Iraqi government publish the agreement to show everybody exactly who owns what?
Issam al-Chalabi: With all due respect to Dr. Marandi, I think he needs to correct some of his information. As you mentioned correctly, this had all been settled with the Algerian Accord and the protocols were signed by the ministers of Foreign Affairs of both Iraq and Iran and Algeria. Then it was Abdelaziz Boutefilka, the current president of Algeria. And then it was Iran itself who deposited the documents, all the documents, all the protocols, including the coordinates of the border because on the markers with the descriptions to the United Nations in both languages -- English and French -- it doesn't take much. If they don't have it in Iran, if they don't have it in Baghdad, they can simply ask the Secretary General of the United Nations, 'For God's sake, send us a copy and then we sit down."  The problem --
Seyed Mohammad Marandi: I think you misunderstood what I was saying though.
Issam al-Chalabi: Okay, can I just finish please, Dr. Marandi?  What happened maybe during the Iraq-Iran war that some of the markers had been destroyed on the border there but then it's not that difficult. You have the maps, we have the coordinates, then simply ask for them and put them back again. It doesn't require forces from anybody.
Turning to violence, today Reuters notes a Baghdad sticky bombing has left three people (employed by an Iraqi MP) were injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured four people (including three police officers) and, dropping back to Sunday, a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded six people.
In the US, the Dept of Defense and the VA has put together a suicide prevention conference "held at the Hyatt Regency on Capital Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11-13 from 8 a.m. -- 5 p.m. EST."  This as Kimberly Hefling (AP) reports that the VA announced a 26% increase during the years 2005 through 2007 in veteran suicides.
Matthew Rothschild's guest on this week's The Progressive Radio Show is Nona Willis Aronowitz and I'm noting the non-Iraq related show because of her mother, the late Ellen Willis, who was a wonderful woman and a good friend. Nona's father is the noted left thinker Stanley Aronowitz who has a new piece at ZNet calling for people on the left to make a break from the forces that hold them back and suggesting "the starting point would be the left's clean break from the Democrats." Read the piece in full and, no, that's not a prankster impersonating Carl in the comments, he really is that much of a crackpot and a liar.  Yes, the same Carl who helped for "Progressives" for Obama, the same Carl who injected himself into a Democratic Party primary is now attempting to claim otherwise. From his grave, Stalin watches in open-mouthed shock and admiration at Carl's continual efforts to revise his own personal history.  Back to Nona, you can find out more about her writing at her website including the book she and Emma Bee Bernstein wrote Girldrive -- Criss-crossing America, Redefining Feminism.
We'll close with this from Debra Sweet's "Guantanamo Turns 8 While More Lives Slip Away" (World Can't Wait):

Monday January 11 is the 8th anniversary of the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo. The emblematic symbol of the Bush regime's "war on terror," in which men have been openly tortured, kept in isolation, force-fed, and for years deprived of any legal respresentation or contact with the outside world, is still open.
It's being called "Obama's prison" now. On January 22, 2009, the new president announced that he would close Guantanamo in a year because it's existence was a public relations nightmare for U.S. foreign policy makers. As of this week, there's no closing date, but a vague indication it could be closed in 2011.
Sweet also notes, "Protests of John Yoo on both ends of the country Tuesday, Jan. 12th! Fire, Disbar, and Prosecute War Criminal John Yoo! John Yoo, principal author of the "torture memos" justifying the Bush torture enterprise, is on a book tour, appearing on Jon Stewart's show (!) Monday night."