Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, February 10, 2010.  Chaos and violence continue, a pipeline is targeted, a reporter is finally released from US military custody, Little Nouri Stirs Up Big Trouble sening his military into a province, Blackwater out of Iraq (kind of, sort of) and more. 
Starting with oil, AFP reports that a pipeline which routed crude oil to a Baghdad refinery had just returned to providing oil when it was attacked in Rashidiya last night according to the Minister of Oil Hussein al-Shahristani.  Reuters notes that no estimate was given on when the pipeline might be fixed and that the Minister of Oil claimed it transfers 50,000 barrels of oil per day. Kadhim Ajrash (Bloomberg News) reports an estimate has since been given for the repairs and the pipeline to be back up and running, sometime in "the next few days". Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraq Minister of Oil Hussain Shahristani said that Iraq is about to establish a new fourth Public Oil Company in order to supervise developing oil fields and that after the Ministry finished from signing 10 contracts with foreign companies. The Ministry hopes that this way it would be able to raise the production rate to 12 million barrels per day."
Reid Smith (The Daily Caller) sees the oil and the elections scheduled currently for March 7th as intertwined noting, "Legal opinion in Iraq regarding the legality of these contracts is essentially split between allies and opponents of al-Maliki. The prime minister's State of Law coalition which surged in last January's provincial elections and remains a parincipal contender in the March ballot, will ensure the auctioned parcels if it maintains control of parliament. However, hydrocarbon laws governing Iraq's oil wealth, the third largets in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Iran, have not been passed yet, and an influx of blacklisted candidates might have soured the existing deals." NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (Morning Edition -- link has audio and text) reports on the response to the illegal war in Anbar Province: Saddam Hussein is missed:

The reason, residents say, is disillusionment with the current Shiite-led government and the local Sunni provincial council. Anbar suffered years of brutal war that pitted U.S. forces against al-Qaida and other insurgents. Now, it's less violent. But people like Zaid say life is still hard, with few services and no jobs.
"It is only now that we have discovered how valuable Saddam was to us," Zaid says. "People have compared the situation before to the situation now. And then was better."

This is not a surprising response for Anbar or any other region in Iraq. Saddam Hussein could be 100% evil and the US forces could be 100% angels. It wouldn't matter. Hussein is the past and just being the past, and now a closed chapter, gives it an ending point. There is no ending point for the daily struggle of life in Iraq today. And not only are the people suffering but they're suffering under exiles put into place by the US. They're not represented by Iraqis, they're represented by malcontents, little cowards who fled Iraq and returned only after the US forces invaded. They've never given a thing for Iraq and the people of Iraq are well aware of it.

You can't install leadership.

That's true anywhere. That's true in a work environment. If you have people already there and you repeatedly promote from outside, bring in from outside, you're asking for trouble.

The Saddam posters are not signs of a return of the Ba'ath Party -- or even the Ba'ath Party as it was. Little Nouri is correct to see it as a rejection of him but it's not an embrace of any form of Ba'athism. However, refusing to allow the banned candidates to run in the elections will help start an underground Ba'ath Party. That's not a 'prediction,' that's a basic reality and there's not anyone that's familiar with politics and revolution and rebellion that wouldn't see that as well. If Little Nouri wants to bring back the Ba'ath Party, he just needs to ensure that Iraqis see him refusing to allow candidates to run. By tarring the rejected/banned candidates with the Ba'ath label, he provides all the building blocks for resistance.  As the Los Angeles Times' Liz Sly noted last month (January 27th) on KRCW's To The Point, "And the Ba'athist is the big bogey man in Iraq, if you like, right now.  You've got this political campaign that's been going on, as you referred to earlier, to exclude Sunni can -- well, they're not just Sunni, but they're secular candidates and a lot of them are Sunni who they have accused of having links to the Ba'athists and there's this political effort to exclude them from the elections. At the same time, you're seeing the government blame Ba'athists for explosions  and the effect that that is having is it is -- it is really opening up the sectarian divide again because Shia associate the Ba'athist with the Sunni and people think this is going to make them more likely to vote with the Sh'ite colation like they did before in the last election." Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) explains, "OK first and foremost, most important piece of news, confirmed news, which you will obviously not be reading about in your media. -- for the month of January 2010 ALONE, there have been over 1625 sectarian arrests."  She goes on to note some additional figures:
- 6'500 candidates for
- 350 parliamentary seats
- 50'000 voting locals inside of Iraq
- 320'000 "observers".
- Iraqi army and police which make up 1 million individuals will be voting in separate ballots. - important to remember this point, bearing in mind that army and police are most, if not all, affiliated to the Shiite parties,
- and now for the last point and a very important one too : again as per official government figures
only 18 million Iraqis are eligible to vote BUT 26 million voting cards have been issued so far. Observers ask why this is so -- hope you do too.
Little Nouri seems determined to be seen as "the new Saddam." Steven Lee Myers and Anthony Shadid (New York Times) report that he sent the Iraqi military into Tikrit last night and that they remain in Tikrit.  An uprising?  A rebellion?  More smoke and mirros about madcap former Ba'athists?  No, he sent in the troops "-- for the second time -- to exert his influence in choosing a new governor" for the province.  What's the result?  You have US forces attempting to help and calm members of the province's council, telling them (rightly) that they have the law on their side.  US forces need to leave Iraq.  If that's not clear to you, you're not paying attention.  Little Nouri's now going after the people -- as members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee suspected he would in 2008 -- Russ Feingold, Joe Biden, basically everyone warned against this happening -- Democrat or Republican, they all warned about this happening.  Where was the press?  These were open hearings.  Where was the US press?  Norm Coleman (no longer a member of the Senate -- Al Franken won the seat when he ran against him) voiced it.  This cut across party lines and the press didn't feel like the American people needed to know? 
The events reported by Steven Lee Myers and Anthony Shadid are very disturbing because this is the first steps outlined by Democratic and Republican senators serving on the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee repeatedly in 2008.  It was covered in the snapshots if we were at the hearings.  Example, April 10, 2008 snapshot:
Biden noted that those appearing before Congress keep stating that the agreements "aren't binding to us but, in Iraq, they think we mean it . . . because otherwise we wouldn't be having this kind of discussion."  Biden noted the "internal threat" aspect being proposed and how these requires the US "to support the Iraqi government in its battle with all 'outlaw groups' -- that's a pretty expansive commitment."  He noted that it requires the US "to take sides in Iraq's civil war" and that "there is no Iraqi government that we know of that will be in place a year from now -- half the government has walked out." 
"Just understand my frustration," Biden explained.  "We want to normalize a government that really doesn't exist."  Senator Russ Feingold wanted to know if there were "any conditions that the Iraq government must meet?"  No, that thought never occurred to the White House.  "Given the fact that the Maliki government doesn't represent a true colation," Feingold asked, "won't this agreement [make it appear] we are taking sides in the civil war especially when most Iraqi Parliamentarians have called for the withdrawal of troops?"  The two witnesses didn't appear to have heard that fact before. 
At this point the US military is now having to protect the citizens and the rule of law from . . . Iraq's prime minister.  And how long do you think that's going to last?
Little Nouri is out of control. Steven Lee Myers and Anthony Shadid report, "In just the last week, Mr. Maliki's government has acted with, at best, disputed legal authority. In Diyala, a leading candidate from one of the main blocs challenging Mr. Maliki's party, known as State of Law, was arrested on Sunday night by special forces sent from Baghdad only days after participating in a recorded debate in which he criticized the security forces. Warrants are said to have been issued for five other members of that province's legislature on charges that remain unclear."  Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports contractors "linked to Blackwater Worldwide" have been ordered out.  This grand standing might have mattered in September 2007.  All the order does now is underscore how inept Nouri is.  Who are these Blackwater employees?  Uh, it's not Blackwater.  See banning the ones involved in the shooting? That would have made since.  Banning Blackwater (now Xe) would have made sense.  That's not what's happened.  Approximately 250 contrators who, in September 2007, worked for Blackwater are being kicked out.  They don't work for Blackwater today.  But they did.  There's no proof of any wrong doing on their part.  But they did work for Blackwater.
At some point, someone needs to ask Nouri, "Is it just all 'b' words?"  He lives in constant fear of the Ba'athists, he's targeting former employees of Blackwater . . .  Is Xe out?  No, of course not.  This is a grandstanding measure that, again, only underscores how weak Little Nouri is.  This move should have taken place in September of 2007.  Jomana Karadsheh and Suzanne Simons (CNN) report that the contractors have been told they have seven days to leave (three of those seven have expired). Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) says the approximately 200 includes "current and former employees" and she reports, "US embassy spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment on how the move would affect its operations here. US officials had previously said that movements of diplomats, already severely restricted due to security fears, would be even more curtailed if former Blackwater guards were removed from duty."  Is any thing really accomplished?  It seems unlikely since Little Nouri's grandstanded before (yes, the Interior Ministry is speaking to the press but you're clue as to who's behind it is the fact that Nouri's spokesperson pops up in most articles as well and, no, he's not the Ministry of the Interior's spokesperson) and Xe's remained.  Equally true, it can be hard to root out Xe.  As Matthew Cole (ABC News) reported at the first of the month, "After Blackwater contractors were accused of shooting 17 civilians in Iraq, the State Department announced it would stop doing business with the company, but ABC News has found that several other agencies, including the CIA and the Pentagon, continue to employ the controversial company, under a myriad of names, often via secret, classified contracts. "
Returning to Liz Sly on  KRCW's To The Point, "Well certainly speaking to the removal of the candidates who had supporters, as you say, I think that's going to have a very serious effect on the turnout amongst Sunnis and amongst your very middle of the road secular Iraqis who kind of feel that this process isn't for them, that people who they would have voted for have been excluded but it wasn't done in a fair way. That this was vengenace or vengefulness, if you like, on the part of this quite narrowly based commission that ordered these bannings. I think they're going to feel that this means that this isn't an inclusive Iraq It's not an Iraq that wants to include everybody in the political process. And that the system is weighed against them, it's not fair, it's not transparent  they might fixed the vote, they banned these candidates we don't really know on what basis, we don't really know who they are so if they can do that why should it be a fair election I think it will supress turnout amongst those people." 
Anyone remember when sectarian tensions were last sewn in a similar manner?  The last national elections.  And remember what happened afterwards?  How likely is it that Nouri's actions will result in Sunni on Shia and Shia on Sunni violence as it did before?  A climate's being created in a country that's already on the edge.  
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Reuters reports a Baghdad car bombing which left five wounded, a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the lives of 2 police officers (four more wounded), a Mosul grenade attack on a security checkpoint which injured one police officer and four bystanders, a Mosul sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1Iraqi soldier, a Mosul roadside bombing which left three people injured and, dropping back to yesterday, a Mosul roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left six other people injured.
In other news out of Iraq, Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed is a Reuters journalist that the US military since September 1, 2008. He has finally been released. Reuters notes that, even now, the US military will not say why they held him and Ibrahim is quoted stating, "How can I describe my feelings? This is like being born again." While the US military held a journalist all this time, it should be noted they were ordered to release the ringleader of the group which claimed credit for the assault on a US base in Iraq which resulted in the deaths of 5 American service members. A journalist they hold, an apparent multiple felon they're ordered to release. But Little Nouri isn't friends with journalists and he is tight with the League of Righteous. While he's on his tear against alleged Ba'athists, it should not be forgotten that he's met with the League of Righteous and dispatched his spokesperson to meet with them, insisting that this organization responsible for the deaths of 5 Americans and for the deaths of 3 British citizens (possibly 4, one's status remains unknown) as well as the kidnapping of British citizen Peter Moore. These people must be brought in, Nouri insists.

December 1, 2008, he should have been free. There was no excuse to hold him because the Central Criminal Court of Iraq had found no evidence against him and had ruled that he be released. The US military ignored the ruling. No, Little Nouri didn't grandstand and scream. He didn't decry US interference. But Little Nouri's no friend of journalists, he's just a friend to criminals. Chris Tryhorn (Guardian) notes, "A month before his arrest, US forces detained Reuters cameraman Ali Mashhadani for the third time, holding him for three weeks without charge."  David Walker (Photo District News) adds, "Over the course of the Iraq War, the military has detained a number of photojournalists as "security threats." Most, if not all, were eventually released without charges. They included AP photographer Bilal Hussein, who was released in April 2008 after more than two years of detention." The Committee to Protect Journalists has defended Ibrahim and other journalists imprisoned (around the world, not just in Iraq).  Today they issued a statement which includes the following:
The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved that the U.S military has released Iraqi photographer and cameraman Ibrahim Jassam today after holding him without charge for 17 months in Iraq , but calls on the U.S. government to ensure that this release marks the end of its policy of open-ended detentions of journalists.  

Jassam, left, a freelancer who worked for Reuters, was arrested on September 2, 2008, by U.S and Iraqi forces during a raid on his home in Mahmoodiya, south of  Baghdad . Jassam was never charged with a crime, and no evidence against him was ever disclosed;  U.S.  forces made only vague assertions that he was a "threat."

"We welcome the release of Ibrahim Jassam but we remain deeply concerned by the lack of due process exercised in this and similar, previous cases," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem , CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "The U.S. military must commit to making this the last time they hold a journalist without charge in an open-ended detention."

Reporters Without Borders also has spoken out in defense of Ibrahim and other journalists imprisoned.  Today they released a statement which includes:

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release today of Iraqi photographer, Ibrahim Jassam, of Reuters, who had been held by the US military since his arrest on 1st September 2008.

"This release is excellent news", the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "However it comes after long months in custody during which the US army never deigned to give any reason for the photographer's arrest and this despite the fact that an Iraqi court had ordered his release".

"I am happy to be reunited with all my family and to finally be free", an emotional Ibrahim Jassam told Reporters Without Borders.

"We welcome the decision to release Jassam," said IPI Director David Dadge. "However, we remain concerned by the fact that the US military felt it acceptable to hold him for 17 months in the absence of any charges against him. Furthermore, this case reveals the disturbing vacuum that exists between US military law and sovereign Iraqi law and it makes a mockery of the principle of habeas corpus."

The Iraqi photojournalist, who worked for Reuters and other news agencies as a freelancer, was seized from his home in Mahmudiya in September 2008.

In November 2008, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled that there was no case against Jassam, but the US military continued to hold him, asserting that he was a "security threat" because of his alleged "activities with insurgents."

Jassam is one of a number of Iraqi journalists detained without charge, for varying lengths of time, by U.S. forces since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. On the anniversary of Jassam's arrest last year, IPI noted that the military's treatment of journalists was "a slap in the face to the US government's stated belief in press freedom, as well as its long-cherished belief in due process."

The freeing of Jassam comes a day before IPI releases its World Press Freedom Review 2009 -- Focus on the Middle East. The report welcomes the fact that fewer journalists were killed in Iraq in 2009 than in previous years, but expressed concern at continuing threats to media freedom.
Bonnie Bricker and Adil E. Shamoo (Foreign Policy in Focus) examine the current status of the war and offer conclusions including:
As our policies towards governance in Iraq evolve, American policymakers must continue to heed the current status of post-war Iraq. The numbers tell a devastating story. Several hundred thousand Iraqis died as a result of the war; an estimated one half-million were wounded.  Tens of thousands of Iraqis are disabled, physically or mentally. There are over two million refugees outside Iraq and more displaced refugees inside Iraq. Twelve thousand physicians and thousands of intellectuals and engineers -- a large percentage of the professionals in Iraq -- left the country, and many will never return. Fifty percent of Iraqis are unemployed.
In order to break with the failed Iraq policy of the past, Washington must acknowledge the misery the invasion of Iraq inflicted on the Iraqi people. While welcoming any progress Iraqis have made post-invasion, we must not conflate the rebuilding of Iraq as a success of the neoconservatives. Rebuilding Iraq has occurred in spite of the neoconservatives' policies, not because of them. The neoconservatives' enthusiasm for Obama's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan provide fair warning that without a clear break from the past, Iraq's future is in doubt.
The current administration continues to support a sectarian constitution, as well as sectarian military and police forces. These imposed sectarian divisions further divide Iraqis instead of uniting them. The Lebanese example demonstrates that an Arab government based on sectarian divisions instead of non-sectarianism has little chance of success. Further, corporate U.S. interests are evident everywhere, especially in Iraq's oil fields. Hundreds of laws written by the United States and imposed on Iraq during the initial invasion remain in effect.
Iraq related.   The Hurt Locker is Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq film and she and others nominated for Best Director (feature film) by the Academy Awards -- James Cameron, Jason Reitman, Lee Daniels and Quentin Tarantino -- speak with John Horn (Los Angeles Times)  about their films.  And Kathryn and Quentin note the Iraq War in their remarks. (Disclosure, I know Kathryn and am championing her with other Academy Award voters.  She directed an amazing film.  She's only the fourth women nominated for Best Director of a feature film and no woman has won thus far. Hopefully, she will make history in a few weeks.)
At the Washington Post, Dana Priest broke the story about the US government 'deciding' it can kill American citizens they suspect -- SUSPECT -- just because they want to. Usually, to sentence someone to an execution, you have to hold a trial. Francis A. Boyle is an international law expert and a noted professor. He weighs in at Information Clearing House:

This extrajudicial execution of human beings constitutes a grave
violation of international human rights law and, under certain
circumstances, can also constitute a war crime under the Four Geneva
Conventions of 1949. In addition, the extrajudicial execution of U.S.
citizens by the United States government also violates the Fifth
Amendment to the United States Constitution mandating that no person "be
deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."
The U.S. Government has now established a "death list" for U.S. citizens
abroad akin to those established by Latin American dictatorships
during their so-called "dirty wars." The Bush Administration reduced the
United States of America to a Banana Republic waging a "dirty war"
around the world in gross violation of international law, human rights
law, and the laws of war. It is only a matter of time before the United
States government will establish a similar "death list" targeting U.S.
citizens living here at home. As someone who used to teach
Constitutional Law, President Obama knows better.        
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing Friday on most PBS stations (check local listings):
Even with the recent outpouring of support for earthquake victims in
Haiti, Americans' attention span for global crises is usually very
short. But is there a way to keep American audiences from tuning out
important global issues of violence, poverty, and catastrophe far beyond
their backyards? On Friday, February 12 at 8:30 pm (check local
listings), NOW talks with filmmaker Eric Metzgar about "Reporter," his
documentary about the international reporting trips of New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof. In the film, Metzgar provides fascinating
insight into how Kristof breaks through and gets us to think deeply
about people and issues half a world away.