Thursday, March 04, 2010

Bombings slam Baghdad as voting begins

We're noting this at the top: This morning on the first hour of NPR's The Diane Rehm Show (begins airing on most stations and streaming online live at 10:00 a.m. EST), USA Today's Susan Page (guest hosting) will speak with Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers), Lawrence Korb (Center for American Progress) and former reporter Thomas E. Ricks about Iraq elections.

On NPR this morning, Quil Lawrence noted the violence that greeted the first day of elections (which were today and not the 5th as I have repeatedly and wrongly stated, my apologies). Starting with voting and then we'll get to the violence. Stephen Starr (Asia Times) reports on the refugees in Syria:

Syria has, by far, the largest Iraqi refugee population, and candidates see rich pickings both there and in Jordan.
"We are rushed off our feet. The demand for permits and press passes has been huge," said Maha, an Iraqi press interpreter for the International High Election Commission in Damascus. The commission organizes permits for dozens of election observers and press attaches who are to monitor the 23 polling stations across Syria this weekend, with the majority of the centers in working class Damascus suburbs.
"We have over 220,000 registrations, more than enough for everyone here," said another commission employee. However, many, including the Syrian government, say the actual number of Iraqi refugees in Syria stands at over one million. That means hundreds of thousands may not be able to vote.
Iraqi nationals can vote on March 5, 6 and 7, while voting in Iraq itself takes place on Sunday. Iraq's security and military personnel go to the polls on Thursday before taking up positions to keep the country secure during the voting process.

Tuesday's snapshot included, "Iraq's Sunni vice president Tarek al-Hashemi is in Syria. For those who have forgotten, al-Hashemi vetoed (as a member of the presidency council) an early election law in late 2009 citing the fact that it did not take into account Iraq's large refugee population. Alsumaria TV reports that he 'thanked Syria for its 'historic' stand of embracing refugees despite bilateral political rows.' Iran's Press TV notes that he 'is also expected to meet with representatives of his country's expatriates' while in Syria." AP notes that this is the first visit by an Iraqi government official (senior) since the August 19th Baghdad bombings (which Nouri and others have blamed on al Qaeda in Iraq, Ba'athists and the Syrian government -- excepting only Wile E. Coyote due to the belief that the Road Runner had him too busy to join that day's coalition of violence).

Meanwhile Marc Santora and Michael R. Gordon (New York Times) report that Hakim al-Zamili is one of the candidates despite charges that he ran "death squads" and that his campaign "runs the risk that Shiite leaders will be seen as taking steps against only those who persecuted Shiites, not Sunnis." Middle East Online focuses on Sunni voters and candidate Sheikh Ayfan Saadoun al-Ayfan, noting: "The sheikh is part of the Iraqi Unity Alliance (IUA), led by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a secular Shiite, as well as Sunni tribal leaders who formed militias and turned against Al-Qaeda. This time around, around 800,000 voters are registered to vote in Anbar, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission in Ramadi, the provincial capital." The Ahrar Party notes:

Ayad Jamal Aldin talks to Al Sharqiya live at 17:00 AST today

Ayad Jamal Aldin, leader of Ahrar Party, will rally support in a final call to the Iraqi people to "be brave at the polling booth and vote for the change that Iraq so desperately needs." The interview will be broadcast live on Al Sharqiya today at 17:00 AST.

For further information, contact:

Ahrar Media Bureau
Tel: +964 (0)790 157 4478 / +964 (0)790 157 4479 / +964 (0)771 275 2942

About Ayad Jamal Aldin:

Ayad Jamal Aldin is a cleric, best known for his consistent campaigning for a new, secular Iraq. He first rose to prominence at the Nasiriyah conference in March 2003, shortly before the fall of Saddam, where he called for a state free of religion, the turban and other theological symbols. In 2005, he was elected as one of the 25 MPs on the Iraqi National List, but withdrew in 2009 after becoming disenchanted with Iyad Allawi's overtures to Iran. He wants complete independence from Iranian interference in Iraq. He now leads the Ahrar party for the 2010 election to the Council of Representatives, to clean up corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated Iraq for the future.

At this NYT webpage, on the left is an audio link (4 minutes, 38 seconds) of Stephen Farrell discussing Iraqi elections with Marc Santora yesterday after the Baquba bombings. Here's an excerpt:

Stephen Farrell: Marc you've been covering this election for several months now. What's the feel out on the streets?

Marc Santora: I think there's the campaign that you see and then the campaign that you feel and hear expressed by ordinary Iraqis. Visibly, you see the campaign everywhere mainly in the banners that now shroud the landscape but under that, if you talk to people, it's really a feeling of both exasperation and fear because with these elections, there's always the undercurrent of violence.

Stephen Farrell: We did see some of that today in Baquba. Can you tell us some of what happened there?

Marc Santora: It was a series of coordinated attacks aimed both at government buildings and at inflicting the most damage possible -- similar to the kind of attacks we've seen throughout the country, mainly in Baghdad, since August, that have left hundreds of Iraqis dead.

Stephen Farrell: There's been much talk of security progress, does it seem evident on the streets to you? Do Iraqis seem to be comfortable at the moment?

Marc Santora: Well Iraq is about to go into almost complete lockdown. Around 48 hours around the election, all the-the traffic will start to clear off the streets. And on election day itself, people won't be able to drive at all. And you'll have tens of thousands of security officers blanketing the country and check points set up. But, as today's attacks show, the militants will look for gaps in that infrastructure, weak areas where they can attack, such as this hospital where the worst of the bombing took place today.

Marc Santora covers (text) yesterday's violence here. As noted earlier, bombings have taken place today. BBC News reports two voting centers in Iraq were targeted with suicide bombings. Khalid al-Ansary, Waleed Ibrahim, Fadhel al-Badrani, Mohammed Abbas, Khaled Farhan, Sherko Raouf, Mustafa Mahmoud, Ayla Jean Yackley, Jack Kimball, Aref Mohammed, Alistair Lyon and Andrew Roche (Reuters) note 19 dead in the two bombings with 35 police and soldiers left injured and 22 civilians wounded

Security -- and broken pledges -- were high among issues listed by policemen voting in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.
"What happened to all the promises that were made?" said Raad Jaafar. "We don't want a leader who just gives guns to rich tribal sheikhs. Is this how Iraq wants to help the poor?"
He said he would not vote for Maliki, who did well in provincial elections in January 2009, when he put security improvements at the centre of his campaign.
But out of 15 policemen interviewed at a Najaf polling centre, most said they backed Maliki's State of Law coalition.

We'll note this from Nancy Gibbs' "Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (Time magazine):

What does it tell us that female soldiers deployed overseas stop drinking water after 7 p.m. to reduce the odds of being raped if they have to use the bathroom at night? Or that a soldier who was assaulted when she went out for a cigarette was afraid to report it for fear she would be demoted -- for having gone out without her weapon? Or that, as Representative Jane Harman puts it, "a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire."

The fight over "Don't ask, don't tell" made headlines this winter as an issue of justice and history and the social evolution of our military institutions. We've heard much less about another set of hearings in the House Armed Services Committee. Maybe that's because too many commanders still don't ask, and too many victims still won't tell, about the levels of violence endured by women in uniform. (See TIME's special report on the state of the American woman.)

The most recent hearing on sexual assault that I'm aware of was the House Armed Services' Military Personnel Subcomittee chaired by Susan Davis. You can refer to the February 3rd snapshot and Wally, filling in for Rebecca, covered it with "House Armed Services' Military Personnel Subcomittee," Trina covered it with "Niki Tsongas asks the question" and Kat with "Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services." I'm blanking right now on how many people attended it (from the press). I'm thinking it wasn't many. Davis also chaired hearings on this topic last year and they also received very little attention. Usually, you can count on AP and that's about it that regularly shows up for these hearings. (Sometimes the military press shows up as well.) (By contrast, these hearings have a large number of service members and veterans attending them. It's an issue that they take much more seriously than does the press.)

And on topics the press doesn't take very seriously, Joseph Curl (Washington Times)observes:

The White House press corps hasn't asked Mr. Obama about the Iraq war in months. The president was last asked about the conflict on Dec. 7, during an Oval Office press availability with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the question came from a Turkish reporter - after an Associated Press reporter asked about the economy.
In fact, the last time a White House reporter asked about the Iraq war was June 26, when National Public Radio's Don Gonyea asked an Iraq-related question during a joint news conference of Mr. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to records kept by CBS Radio reporter Mark Knoller.

With the exceptions of Chip Reid, Helen Thomas and Jake Tapper, the White House press corps has disgraced themselves last year and thus far this year. The observation Curl's making is one we've made here many times but, in fairness to them, they see themselves more as a fan club than the working press. (The State Dept press corps, by contrast, is a functioning one.) If you doubt that, think of the League of Righteous. We speak with military families and service members among other groups (we speak against the war) and they know of the League of Righteous. Say that term to the White House press corps and get a blank stare. This is an outrage to military families. The League of Righteous claimed 'credit' for killing 5 US service members on a base in Iraq, their leader and his brother were captured by US forces and held by them until last spring when the Obama administration made a deal. For what? For Americans? No. 5 British citizens had been kidnapped and so the administration betrayed the five fallen and released the ringleader and brother. It's an outrage and the White House press corps has been too busy licking Robert Gibbs' shoes to press on this issue. It's a huge issue. And Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel (Washington Post) have today's must read article. Excerpt:

Until this year, the group's leader, Qais al-Khazali, was in U.S. custody. His release came after negotiations with American and Iraqi officials that left the United States hopeful that Khazali would renounce violence and steer his men toward the political system, removing his group from the long list of threats facing U.S. forces.
But the episode appears to have only increased the clout wielded by Khazali, a onetime deputy to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who has become the leader of one of the most organized and lethal Shiite militias in Iraq, one with close ties to Iran. The failed attempt at reconciliation also serves as a cautionary tale at a time when the United States is trying to neutralize insurgent groups not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
This account of the U.S. military's failure to wean Asaib Ahl al-Haq from militancy has been drawn from interviews with Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi lawmaker who was the government's point man in the negotiations, and two U.S. military officials, who largely corroborated his description.

On Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Tammy e-mails regarding Marcia's "The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Shuck & Jive." If you haven't read it, that post is a discussion Marcia and I have on the topic. Tammy wanted to know why the hearing wasn't covered here? I attended a hearing yesterday on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. There were two or three hearings last week where the issue was raised. I'd hoped to cover it in a snapshot. I noted that one morning -- probably Thursday or Friday. There wasn't time. As I said in that entry, maybe it could be carried over to Third or else I'd hand my notes to Marcia. I did hand them over. Yesterday was another hearing and also a long snapshot. Marcia and I spoke Tuesday night about the notes which she felt were mammoth (they were lengthy) and was having trouble finding an entry point to write about it. I mentioned the Wednesday hearing and she asked if we could talk about it Wednesday night for her sight? Absolutely. We covered a ton of things in the snapshot yesterday. And, as Marcia notes in her post, I hope to quote from her post in today's snapshot -- and ideally to note Niki Tsongas and Loretta Sanchez as well. That may or may not happen. But what I knew was I missed the topic all last week and I was very happy with Marcia's offer. That ensured the hearing got covered. It's an important issue. And it got covered. At Marcia's site and Marcia always covers that topic. It's probably the most covered or second most covered topic at her site (if it's not the most covered, marriage equality is).

In terms of this evening. Barring big news out of Iraq after the snapshot, tonight's "I Hate The War" will cover a few e-mails to the public account -- Iraq related.

We'll note this from Debra Sweet's "Join Me in Protesting Wars on Iraq & Afghanistan" (World Can't Wait):

US Troops Out of Iraq & Afghanistan NOW!
Stop the Wars & Torture for Empire!
Saturday March 20, on the 7th anniversary, U.S. invasion of Iraq
CNN on February 23, 2010, more than eight years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan: “Twenty-seven civilians were wounded in the incident Sunday in the central Daikondi province, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. Ground forces at the scene found women and children among the casualties, the Afghan government and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in a joint statement.”
This is exactly what wars of occupation are all about, and they must stop!


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